Left, right, left, right… My breath was labored after about four hours of hiking up the steep incline towards that summit that just never came, hovering in front of me like a mirage but never actually becoming reality. Several breaks eased the day along, but it became slowly harder as less and less oxygen made its way into my lungs, and I was pushing my body to its limit. The last stretch was the hardest, as we scrambled our way along what shouldn’t really be called a path, stepping and climbing over boulders that impeded our progress. Over the last rock, and we were there. 4780 meters high (aka about 15 682 feet), surrounded by clouds and mist that obstructed the view but nonetheless filled with an indescribable feeling of accomplishment. Exhausted, freezing, out of breath, standing on top of a volcano (no big deal), we proceeded to have a dance party to the tune of the 2010 GCY anthem. As I busted out some extra-awkward moves for the special occasion, the thought that passed through my head as I looked around at my cold, tired, but incredibly elated companions was that we can do anything if we set our minds to it.
Reaching the summit of the volcano Pichincha is metaphorically why I decided to take a Global Citizen Year. Over the past two weeks, I have been falling into a routine vaguely reminiscent of college, what with Spanish classes at the Experiment for International Living (EIL) and lectures at the University de Las Americas every day. But this weekend, I was reminded of the reason I took a different path than my high school classmates. I am here to test my limits, to push my boundaries, and to transcend borders that differ from the average 18 year old’s path. I know that this year will be very much like our hike, which started out as an innocent Saturday morning but ended up being an (extremely cold) awakening. There will be many obstacles in my path including boulders, bad weather, and falls. Literally. I took a spill headfirst down the mountain, to the vast amusement of the others. But I will also reach that summit, if I set my mind to it. I am unbelievably glad that I am here in Ecuador (despite my massive bruise), challenging assumptions and learning new things every day.
For example, at the dinner table the other day, my host brothers were surprised to find that guinea pigs are considered pets in the US, as opposed to the roasted delicacies they are here. The next morning, after taking a running leap onto the still moving bus that takes me to school each morning, I stood thinking about that dinner table conversation. About how different things are here, but especially how much I love those differences. I know that I made the right choice to come here, and I know it will change my life for the better. As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” And for me, it already has.