A couple weeks ago, someone asked me, “What is the most important thing you’ve gotten out of this year?” A question I’m sure I’ll hear a lot when I return home. But truthfully, picking just one is hard. My time here has changed how I look at the world and how I feel about myself so profoundly. Ecuador has taught me the value of taking the time to be present with people. That you don’t have to be productive all the time. You can take the time to have a conversation that goes a little long, because simply talking to that person, no matter what it is about, strengthens your friendship. If you’re late to your next engagement, thats alright. Conclusion: human connection > punctuality. For me, this was a really tough thing to internalize. I know that there are important things in life beyond a resume, but when everything in your life points and directs otherwise, its hard to remember that. I am forever grateful to the Ecuadorian culture for providing a much needed example of how to value other people for who they are and not what they can do for you.
In Ecuador, friendships and families rely on each other without shame or hesitation. Forming connections in the indigenous community is not based off of who you know or what you do. Instead, it is based off of family and neighbors. I remember my host mother explaining that our great uncle lived two houses down and our great aunt lived in the house next door, while our great grandparents lived around the block. When I think back to California, I realize that I don’t even know what my neighbors look like, much less their names.
In the indigenous community, asking for a favor is offering a favor in return. And invitations to weddings and baby showers are offered with a plate of food. You don’t have to convince others to be there for you. They simply are. I admire the mentality here so much, and its made me take a hard look at myself and the values I have been taught within the elite bubble of prep schools. I’ve realized that sometimes I look at others and ask myself what they can do for me, instead of whether I really like them or not. This is especially true with adults, which I think has made it harder for me to make connections with people here. I want to retrain my brain to look at people for who they are and not what they do. I know this will be a huge challenge for me next year at an institution like Yale, where networking is half the value of the school, but through not having any, I’ve realized the importance of having adult friends who are just that, friends.
I’ve also had some time to reflect on my time in high school and how it affected me. High school was stressful, and most of my time was spent trying to be the best. All my efforts were concentrated on this, and social life took a backseat. If I had time, I could do something for my friend’s birthday. If I had time, I could go hang out with someone I hadn’t seen in a while. If I had time, I could help my friend with her homework. Luckily, I had wonderful friends who understood the pressure I was under. But now, I look back on that time and I regret that I worked so hard. I regret that I passed up opportunities to spend time with friends. And most of all I regret not spending the time to think about myself and who I want to be. Because even though I’m now ready for college, which I was not at this time last year, I realize I’m not satisfied with who I am yet.
I’ve had the time these past seven months to do things for other people, to spend time with other people without homework and tests hanging over my head. And I’ve realized making other people feel happy and loved, made me feel better than all the As in the world. Before, I saw my value in my grades, an A meant I was worthy, and an acceptance to Yale meant I had proved myself. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about my grades in the next four years, whether I will put as much value in them as I used to. But as of now, I want to change. I want to look at myself and be proud of my kindness, resilience and consideration for others, regardless of whether I got a B on my latest paper.
Until next time,