Traveling to South America for a semester is the hardest thing I have done in my life this far, even harder than the statistics final that I spent a week studying for. Leaving everything behind and going to a completely new place is something I have only experienced once in my life, when I moved to my university. Growing up my family and I lived on the same farm and my sister and I attended school in the same school district for all 13 years. My life was far from perfect, but I can honestly say if I had the chance to change it, I wouldn’t. I had been very active in 4-H and FFA, which ignited a very intense curiosity about the world around me, while also teaching me the importance of knowing and appreciating where I come from. I have found this to be especially important when discussing America with my friends that I have made while abroad. It is very interesting to hear others perceptions of Americans and politics, because, being from America, I never really think about the impact our country has on the rest of the world. To some, The States are the epitome of Utopia, yet to others, America is just another country on the map. I have learned that some of the ways Americans do things might not be the best, and I have learned that I really don’t know a whole lot about the rest of the world. Of course I have a general knowledge of things… but I want to know more….
Outside of in-depth discussions about education systems, politics, and languages, we are all the same here. My school is a small language school that provides courses for students for credit or for those traveling who wish to get a better grasp on the language. Making friends is both very easy and very difficult. On one hand everyone is in the same boat, we’re in Ecuador and have a lot to learn about the language and culture of the people around us, making it very easy for us to find common interests and topics of conversation. However, it is very difficult to keep these friends because many are traveling through South America and are just taking classes for a few short weeks. It definitely adds perspective and is very different from the group of friends I have had for the past 15 years of my life.
Even though I am not backpacking through South America I have done a fair amount of traveling throughout Ecuador and everywhere I go, I always seem to find someone to strike up a conversation with, either at hostels or at restaurants, and every time I am surprised about how much we have in common. At 21 years old and as a junior in college, I can say that before my trip abroad I had no desire to talk to strangers in the States – besides my mother always told me not to – but here in Ecuador it almost feels necessary. I am constantly asking directions, or the best place to start hiking, and a conversation inevitably follows. There are so many fascinating people in this world with more stories to tell than any one person could fathom. I have made it my goal to learn more, know more people, and try more foods, because in the end it can only make me a better person.