A different place. A different language. A different culture. And yet, at our core, we are all the same.
If anyone looked over at me when the plane landed, they would have seen me sitting there smiling.
When I first arrived in Ecuador, I had a Wizard of Oz moment because “Toto I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore”.
Okay, so maybe I traveled from Ohio (and maybe I don’t have a dog named Toto) but, regardless, I quickly realized I was no longer home.
The first difference I noticed was the change in language. Suddenly, I couldn’t always understand what those around me were saying and had to have communication with others through my knowledge of basic Spanish, hand gestures, and the patience of others.
That patience has been a continuing theme during my time in Ecuador. While working in the field and doing service learning projects (with both Spanish and English speakers) the ability to give each other time and explain ourselves creatively has been key to our successful interactions.
The adventure continues:
There is something about embracing another culture that allows one to experience the unexpected.
After spending a week in Ecuador, and getting a chance to connect with those that call this country home, I can’t imagine leaving.
Being here has taught me so many different lessons, given me the opportunity to have deep and inspiring conversations, and connect with people in new ways.
While in one of our reflection discussions, we discussed what we had learned about ourselves while in Ecuador.
This went along with a previous assignment we did during orientation. We were asked to make a pie chart of our qualities that lead us to come to Ecuador as a part of this group. While I knew there were many different sides of me that lead me to this trip, I still discovered two sides to myself that I hadn’t had the opportunity to realize before coming to Ecuador.
A new level of communication
Communication is more than the language you speak, but the messages you convey and receive through a variety of ways.
Coming to Ecuador, and being in a country where my first language is not the primary language used has been incredible. Every day, I am expected to speak in Spanish and listen to others speak to me in a language I am still learning.
Since spoken language cannot always be relied on for deeper conversation, those in our group have turned to creativity, gestures, facial expressions, and piecing together the words we know in order to communicate.
This has really proved to me the power of communication and the value of being able to communicate through means other than words. The excitement that courses through others and myself when we figure out what each other means is priceless, and our smiles and good intentions are understood despite the language barrier.
Being in Ecuador has both increased my interest to learn Spanish and given me the confidence in myself to be able to communicate with others who do not speak the same language as myself. In a world where global interaction is so prevalent and the variety of language around the world, I am really grateful to have this opportunity to learn a new dimension of communication.
A love for kids:
After living in a college town and being constantly surrounded by other adults, it was eye-opening to realize how deeply I enjoy working with children.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always known that I like kids and have fun when interacting with them, but it wasn’t until this trip that I realized how truly happy it makes me to interact with children and make them smile.
For my first couple days in Chaquizhca, I worked with students who were approximately 8 to 12 years old. During that time, it was amazing to see them going from shy to excited when they saw us.
As we walked through the school’s gate, my heart would fill with joy as I waved and said “Hola” to each kid. Their smiles would shine through when I would tell them “Muy Bien” on their drawing or ask them “¿Cómo estás?”.
While they quickly realized I was not fluent in Spanish, they easily adapted to communicating with me through other means (mostly laughter) and I was amazed by how well behaved and kind they were toward their teachers, friends, and us.
Since one of my study aboard classes is a journalism class, the children quickly noticed I was one of the photographers. One girl (who is now my “Foto Amiga”) would stand near me and watch me as I captured moments of happiness with the click of a button.
When I kneeled down to show her the photos, her eyes widened. So I held her hands and taught her how to take photos of her friends. As I watched her excitement grow, I showed her how I could take a photo of her. I will never forget how happy she was when she saw her face on my camera screen.
I then handed her my photo to use as a camera and we began taking photos together. As the days went on, it amazed me how happy she was, how quickly she learned how to take great photos, and how without knowing the same language we bonded.
After only a few short days, the kids would come over to play and take photos during recess. I loved seeing their joy when they saw each other’s smiling faces in my photos and their excitement after they took a picture.
While engaging with young children is something that can be done in any country, anywhere, it took me coming to another country (and breaking my normal routine) to have this realization. Despite the language barrier, I loved connecting with the children through happiness and similar interest. Ultimately, it really opened my eyes to how deeply I love helping and teaching others.
What it means to be happy:
While the meaning to achieve it might be unique for different people, happiness is a universal desire.
One big thing I have noticed is how happy the people in Ecuador are and how positive they keep their environment.
For example, in the U.S., it is normal to own tons of clothes, shoes, devices and other goods, however, sharing these belongings is not as common of a practice.
In comparison, I have seen many people in Ecuador living with fewer belongings, and yet not thinking twice about sharing with another person or inviting us into their homes.
I have also seen joy, laughter, and happiness on the faces of people here despite challenges.
That level of peace and gratefulness has been inspiring, and really proves that happiness comes from within and from deeper connections with others. That’s what makes it truly priceless.