Almost four months ago I moved in with my current host family after having to change from the first family I was originally placed with. The switch was a result of a series of miscommunications and some complex issues that escalated over the two months spent with the first family. During the transition from one host family to another, I faced some difficult challenges. For one of the first times in my newly independent life I was depending on other people for help. With support and encouragement from my Program Manager, I asked my recently made friends for places to stay during the transition. These tasks were very uncomfortable and unfamiliar to me. The discomfort came from a combination of things. I had recently met these people, and I felt I was stepping on their toes by asking them to take me in. Even more, I felt I was asking a lot of people who have very little: at first glance, there was no extra space or resources to accommodate another person at my friend’s house where I ended up staying.
Fortunately, in those couple of weeks I experienced the generosity and eagerness to help of the Ecuadorian people. A close friend whose family lives with very little in their house, insisted on sharing everything that he could with me. This has been a common trend I have experienced this year: people with next to nothing who share everything they can – from food to beds to transportation. Along with sharing, perhaps my favorite aspect of many people here is finding a way to make things work, even when logistics seem unrealistic.
The same friend who helped me out in those two weeks also helped me find the family I currently live with. This family turned my experience around this year and has made it much of the enriching, profound experience that it has become. My host mother, Lillian, is a resilient woman who has strong opinions and always makes her voice heard, whether while working in the public sector or trying to resolve small conflicts within the community or house. She is also an extremely loving person with her kids and family. The two of us have found a common passion and bond over music. She has taken me to some of the indigenous music festivals around Ibarra with spectacular presentations of the Andean instruments and indigenous forms of dance. Beyond music we share a mutual enthusiasm for life that keeps us up talking until late at night at the dinner table about past experiences and future hopes. I have two younger siblings here: my brother, Ariel, who is fifteen years old and my little sister, Evita, who is nine. Ariel sings and plays guitar in a band, and also scorches me on the soccer courts near our house every day. Evita plays the famous Titanic song on her recorder non-stop when someone else is in the house to listen, and is constantly in search of somebody to play with, which most often ends up being me. Having always been the youngest in my family in the U.S., it’s been a fun opportunity to play the big brother this time around.
I realized how happy I was a few weeks ago when I was walking home from work and was truly looking forward to getting home to be with my host family. This is a feeling that I cannot take for granted after my experience in those first couple of months.
Recently my host mom told me, “One of my hopes for you is that when you go back to your land that you will always have great memories of us and our country.” I told her that I don´t see myself going home and just having memories of this year. This experience has brought a change and a new direction in my life that will always be far more than just memories.
The four of us in this house have become a very tight unit in the recent months, and the thought of having to say “adios” in a week is quite difficult to process at the moment.
The last few weeks have included family salsa-dancing nights, looking through all of the family photo albums, and going on hikes with just the four of us. This has become much more than a cross-cultural exchange between us. We are a family that has been through the many ups and downs that are normal in life. We share everything with each other, always know what the others are doing when they are not in the house, and function as a team. I know that my presence being suddenly taken out of the house will be felt. I also know that we will miss each other mutually.
So what is the “family impact” of my experience?
Coming home to a safe, trustworthy, and supportive group of people every evening for the last four months has made my time in Ecuador feel complete. It wouldn’t have mattered how great things were with my apprenticeship and projects. Developing a strong connection with this family created a base for my experience that gave me something to learn from, build on, and most importantly enjoy. But I wasn’t part of the family the night I moved in, I was just a nineteen year-old volunteer from the United States. It was a mutual challenge and opportunity for my family members and me to open ourselves up to one another and see each other for who we are as people, and not for the stereotypes that we are fed from society about the other. This process is what has made our coming together so rewarding. Although I’m leaving, being a part of this family has produced what I believe will be a lifelong friendship.