I have never been good at not being good at activities. The extracurriculars I continued throughout the years are the ones that came naturally to me, never the ones that took work, because I always quit either mentally or in actuality before I tried to persevere. For years I played soccer, yet instead of trying, I picked at the grass or my pinny in a corner. I was scared of the ball and did not have the same coordination as my peers. Yet if I had worked hard at the game instead of giving up automatically, there is a chance that dedication could have brought me to a similar level as other soccer players my age. Now, the idea of playing soccer and sports in general is followed by a visceral reaction.
With this in mind, the rest of the story is a breakthrough for me. It was the first day that I was to meet my host family whom I would be spending three weeks in Quito with. I thought I wasn’t nervous, until I saw my family: a mom, dad and seventeen year old sister, and walked the other way. I finally had the courage to approach them, yet as my host father decided to tell me yesterday, my face was the color of my bright red lunch box for about two hours. We went to their family friends house and had lunch. Afterwards, I walked outside with my host sister and she asked me whether I wanted to play volleyball. Her father and another man were already setting up the net, I forewarned her that I was not athletic, she laughed and the game began. As the ball was served, my hands reached into the air, I pushed the ball, and it slammed directly into the net. My volleyball career would have typically ended there, either telling the others that my hand hurt or that I would instead like to watch. I knew that if I went that route, I would continue in the same somewhat flat direction of growth as before. I continued to play and soon the ball went over the net. While I was no star at the game, I tried and continued to get better. Afterwards, the net came down and the group prepared to play a game of soccer. Memories of being petrified a ball would cement into my face came back and I was about to say no, yet I knew again it was necessity to say yes. I started the game and it was the most fun I had ever had playing a game of soccer. My host sister and I were the only two girls playing, yet all the men cheered for each other no matter what team they were on. And even if I did not score the goal, people on either side would tell me it was a good play. I was told that Ecuador had a Muchismo culture and I expected that to correlate with competition, yet I found more love for the sport and the entire group than I have ever seen in my life.
While at Stanford University for fall training, an improv troupe came. Each activity was supposed to relate to how to tackle issues while in Ecuador. At the time I thought the different games were fun yet silly. Now, looking back, they were important reminders. We did a group scene called “yes and,” in which it was a necessity to say “yes, and” to each absurd decision another person decided was fit for the scene.
“Let’s go to the park!”
“Yes, and lets see a bear while we’re there!”
“Yes, and lets go eat dinner with the bear!”
Now, as I look back, “yes, and” was incredibly important to growth. I am one to say “no” so I can feel safe, and a huge step in this program for me is to start saying yes. I said yes to the volleyball and soccer game, and a few days later I said yes to learning how to play bridge, a card game I had always deemed over my head, and now play daily with my host mom and host grandma who lives on the floor above us. I am also trying hard to say yes, and, in a more theoretical way to speaking Spanish as much as possible. I am starting to have conversations in my head in Spanish and my accent, grammar and vocabulary are improving because I am less scared to make a fool out of myself than before. I am scared for more yes, and’s this year, yet mixed in with the scary feeling is a ton of excitement of how much growth happens when one says yes instead of no.