What I learned in Ecuador

In October I realized that my gap year wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be. I wanted to take a gap year to gain practical experience in environmental conservation before starting uni. Working at a tourism office doing mostly photo and video editing was not going to fulfil that goal. After some time of struggling to find any purpose in my stay, I accepted that I just had to go along with not having one big goal, but I could still make this a valuable experience. A couple of months later, I did something that showed me that I really did learn something valuable here in Ecuador.

Last Friday, I decided to quit my work independent of Global Citizen Year. I like to view this as the end of a long learning process. I had been very unhappy previously and realized just how unhappy I was when I was travelling for the majority of January. I forgot what happiness felt like before and being able to be myself around my friends, I started to realize what had been going wrong the past 4 months. I am a people-pleaser and in Ecuador this turned into an overwhelming personality trait. I wanted to be a good host daughter, I wanted to be a good fellow in the eyes of the coordinators of GCY, I wanted to try as hard as I could to deal with a more challenging life. The consequences of this mind set turned out to be more severe than I would have ever thought. I was being extremely careful to not hang out with my friends too much and spend as much time as possible with my host family so I wouldn’t hurt their feelings. I mentioned this before but my family spend all their time together, my host siblings barely ever hang out with friends or do anything on their own. I could tell that my host mum was a little disappointed every time I told her I was leaving the house to hang out with friends. I barely ever put myself first and ended up not doing a lot of things I wanted to do. With my work I was a little more extreme. The main problem was that I was working 26h a week but the tasks I got would take me on average 4h a week to complete. There were entire days on which I didn’t get anything to do and these were not infrequent. I had been talking about this to my personal supervisor from GYC since the end of November and we had been trying to change the situation. She talked to my supervisor at work multiple times, but nothing ever changed. Being me, I told myself I wanted to take on this challenge and try to make it work and not just take the “easy” way of giving up. However, I hated my work and I did not realise how much it was affecting everything in my life. When I came back from independent travel I was crying because I did not want to go back there. Yet, I still told myself it was going to be fine, I just had to get back into my routine of resignation and I could survive the next 8 weeks. Supressing part of my personality and always being the good Aniska, the people-pleaser and being so unhappy at my work place really made every day a challenge and I kind of knew that there was no way I was going to get through the next eight weeks this way.

On Friday, I made the decision to finally prioritize myself, not feel guilty about that and take my right to be happy. This decision was the result of a long learning process I have been going through here in Ecuador. Due to having a lot of free time and little things to do, not having a big overall goal and having to adapt to a way slower life, I learned how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way and acknowledge and respect them. Now I can finally be honest with myself about how I really feel, appreciate that and act upon my emotions. I can prioritize my well-being without feeling guilty and recognize that in order to be well I need to express all parts of my personality, also the more rebellious ones, and not just the ones that want to be “good”. Once I took this decision I felt so relieved. I immediately was happier and had more energy and motivation to enjoy the next 8 weeks as much as possible and this week I have been doing a pretty good job. In case anyone who is reading this needs to hear it: It is your life and no one is going to change things for you or make sure you are happy. You need to take your life into your own hands!

Now I am working with an English AB teacher in a close by school and we have tons of ideas how we want to make lessons more fun and spend more time outside of the class room learning practical English. I am also going to start working in the restaurant of another host family in multiple functions. I reached out to some local street artists and they are willing to teach me. Me and my friends have along bucket list of things we want to do before we leave, including running a 5k. Life is finally good again.

(The picture is the view from the bus stop of the place we stayed at in the Amazon region.)