“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton
It took about two days for my ears to finally adjust to the change in altitude and pressure after being home. For those two days, my entire body felt as if I was underwater, perhaps imaging floating around in the Pacific Ocean without a care in the world, enjoying the amazing beauty of Ecuador’s coast and the Galapagos Islands. Muffled inquiries accompanied by shouts for responses filled my days as I just seemed to take up space in my home, my mind lost in the middle of the world.
This past week, I have felt a whirlwind of emotions. As I enjoyed the last week or so of my study abroad in denial, I finally had to learn to say goodbye, a cruelly ironic term that seems to have a powerful spell over human beings, forever leaving us perplexed, angry, upset, hopeful, excited – too many contradicting emotions at once for one person to handle. Yet somehow we learn how to say goodbye, by either packing up those emotions, or learning to leave what we can behind as to not carry too much weight in the future. Although my family and friends here fill the void of the goodbyes and see you laters I handed out with trembling hands and watered down vision, there is a cultural void that exists after spending such a long period of time in another country.
The reverse culture shock is equally as cruel, eventually turning into something positive and life-altering (I am ready whenever you are), but right now it is just reminding me that I am a stranger in my own country, what was familiar is now strange and a foreign country still has my heart and understands me better than I seem to understand myself. I have been floating around a (my?) town that is too small and too big at the same time within a state in a similar situation, sitting on the coast of a country that could be the host of possibly 50 Ecuadors. The accessibility of taking a bus for a maximum of 10 hours to get somewhere you want to visit with a cost of at most $12 no longer as I sit in a town where a car is required if you want to get anywhere and where the cost of public transportation is equivalent to about 10 rides on the green bus in Quito or the Ecovia (the metro). One trip on the metro will get you to the Historic Center and satisfy your senses with an overwhelming quantity of churches built to show devotion and faith in a being that connects mainstream beliefs in the U.S. with those in Ecuador, disconnected primarily by a language barrier that seems to build walls between countries that are geographically connected to us. This language is one that now slips off of my tongue without thinking, hiding words and sayings in between my teeth so that even when I am speaking English, they can insert themselves in my sentences and remind me of the beautiful language that filled my eardrums for four months, my brain now bitter that after finally adjusting I now expect it to switch to English without a fight.
The experience is hard to put into words, putting into consideration my language conflict or not, and it seems to make people think I did not enjoy myself. When someone asks me a question about my study abroad experience, my mind is forced to flip through what seems to be hundreds of different experiences and memories, all unique and important in their own way, a film reel of colors and locations and people and sounds and smells and feelings that each have their own significance. As I attempt to explain what it feels like to stand at the peak of a mountain or the bottom of a waterfall, my senses overload and my throat blocks words, building an awkward silence that cannot be fixed as I lose my train of thought and my mind wanders to some part of Ecuador that I did not spend enough time with.
However, as always, time continues to move forward and thus so do I, frequently finding myself missing the smells and sounds of the marketplaces in Quito or the morning serenades on the bus rides to campus. However, these smells have been filled with the smells of winter in Massachusetts accompanied by the holiday season. I quickly began to crave eggnog and all things festive and have luckily come back during a family oriented time of the year. Still, each aspect of what I miss from Ecuador finds something to cling onto here in the United States that either resembles it completely or somehow could possibly pass for it. Time progresses and I remind myself of the importance and relevance of progress right now.
As the United States finds itself on the brink of change, I know that I must stay motivated to be an active citizen and take part in the democracy that exists within my country. To be fair, the qualms and concerns of Ecuadorians are on a completely different level than ours here in the United States. We are not comparable, we have completely different histories and thus different perspectives on the world. Nevertheless, I will ensure that my voice is heard and I will work towards the future that I want for myself and my peers, always keeping in mind the beautiful country that opened my eyes to the importance and natural beauty of the world and living in harmony with nature and with people different from you.
As I move on in my life, I hope to keep Ecuador a part of my story, making my way back there one day, perhaps after graduating this May. I am not entirely sure what my plans are but I am sure that my experience in Ecuador will help me in my endeavors, whether it be by changing me into a more observant person, helping me with my Spanish, or offering me a place to live and spend some more time in after graduating. No matter what the case, my experience in Ecuador is one that I will never forget and one that can never be taken away from me. Thank you so much for reading my posts and for sharing this experience with me. I hope that you enjoyed reading and that one day, if you have not already, you are able to discover the beauty of Ecuador’s nature and culture firsthand, an experience that cannot be fully appreciated through the stories and words of others, no matter how intricately crafted they may seem.