Four years ago I was getting on a train to Colorado with eleven other individuals that I didn’t know but would spend the following years backpacking, cooking, and learning how to be financially responsible with. In one day I will be getting on a plane to travel thirteen hours to Ecuador with twelve REACH students, several of which I started this four-year journey with. Everyone that I’ve talked to about the trip asks me what I’m looking forward to or if I’m nervous. But I haven’t really had a good answer for these questions. I have hard time imaging what my time will be like in Ecuador. I spent the first 18 years of my life living in the same rural town, on the same street, in the same house. From preschool to throughout high school I had the same friends. It’s hard to think of myself in a different country when I’ve I only know my one way of life. I may not know what to expect, but I hope I come back to my familiar, rural hometown with a broader perspective on life.
A typical day for me during the academic year consists of rowing, attending class, going to internships, babysitting, and then trying to squeeze a nap and a meal somewhere in between before I go to sleep, just to wake up and repeat that the next day. It’s easy to get caught up in our daily routines. From an early age in school we are taught that we have to be in a specific classroom at a specific time of the day, and if not, there are consequences. Often I find myself turning down camping trips, movie nights, or just a night out with friends because “I don’t have the time”. But by going through life strictly based on set routines, one is focused on where they have to be in an hour rather than appreciating what is occurring in the moment. I think something that I will struggle with while in Ecuador is that they are not as concerned about time and sticking to a strict schedule as our culture. From what I have read, they live life slow. Businesses don’t necessarily have an opening and closing time, it’s more based on when they feel ready. If a friend says they will meet you at 5 PM, they may show up forty minutes late and it is considered acceptable. During my weeks in Ecuador, I hope to live life patiently. By living life at a slower pace, it will allow for me appreciate my new experience more.
When traveling to unknown territories, it is expected that one would try to return to known familiarity. I think it is easy to interact with other travelers for they know your language, culture, and customs. But that takes away from part of the experience in the new country. Despite being away from home, I hope to remain open-minded. I’m interested in learning about the culture of Ecuadorians and by staying with a host family, I know this will help. After living with a family, I want to understand what they value in life. I want to have an understanding of the different roles that each member in the family plays. I want learn about the traditions they participate in each year.
There is so much you can learn about the world by traveling that cannot be taught in a classroom. Despite my college offering four different courses regarding the indigenous Quechua people of South America, their language, their culture, and their history, these courses cannot teach what can be experienced in real world settings. These courses are taught from the point of view of one professor based her knowledge and experiences. Being in a classroom with thirty other students who know nothing about Quechua and are taking the class because it sounded interesting will not provide me with the same insight if I were to travel to Ecuador itself. When you immerse yourself into a country and their culture, that’s when you’ll learn the most, not sitting at a desk 4,500 miles away from the source itself.