Before my gap year in Ecuador, I believed my capacity for moral imagination was above average. I constantly told myself, “I’m so empathetic that I naturally enter the other’s shoes!” As a slightly cocky high-school graduate, maybe this was true. However, I had challenged myself to become a global citizen.
During the first week of my homestay in Cayambe, Ecuador, two things changed the course of my Global Citizen Year and pushed the limits of my moral imagination. I finished The Blue Sweater and I began to live with my host family, which included my 14 year-old host sister. Completing the book, I realized for the first time that this wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. Interacting with my new sister, the first of these new challenges, confused me and stretched me beyond my comfort zone.
Just as Jacqueline Novogratz, the author of The Blue Sweater, pushed herself to imagine why she was poisoned, I sought an answer as to why my host sister, Teresita, only seemed to view me as a hindrance to her family.
Soon I passed most of my time in the company of Teresita, a fourteen year-old girl. Amazed by her absolute and complete ability to avoid and ignore me, I had to search for more answers. I remembered how absolutely horrendous life was for me at fourteen. I thought how threatening it must be, especially as an only child, to suddenly have a new older brother that your mother loves so openly and wholeheartedly. I could completely put myself in her shoes and walk a mile (really a meter!) in her life.
Frustration continually arose when our only interactions were solely comprised of her snide comments about my Spanish or weight and the forced “Hola, Teresita.” “Hola, Jay.”
Eventually, I embraced her as my sister and stopped caring how she viewed me. On my last day with my family, I gave her a letter with a handwritten note on the first page. I wanted her to know that she is and always will be my sister.
I choose to view this situation positively. I have become a much better person and my capacity for moral imagination has grown immensely. Teresita and Jacqueline each played a vital role in this growth and to them both, I am very thankful. I began my gap year thinking I knew everything about putting myself into another’s shoes. Nine months later, I realize I’ve only scratched the surface.