When returning home after a period of cultural immersion, there is sometimes a phenomenon called “reverse culture shock,” where fitting back into your home culture is difficult, and even uncomfortable. Note that this normally occurs after months spent in a foreign country, but I got a taste of it when we returned from Ecuador. The first meal I had back in the US was at a buffet, and I felt so indulgent, I just felt icky. And I warned my boyfriend when he was about to take a bite of lettuce. And I felt awkward speaking to the waiter because I had spent so long, well, not speaking to waiters. My reverse culture shock, if you could actually call it that, lasted a few days. In those few days, I talked nonstop about Ecuador to coworkers that didn’t really care. I wore my pendant everyday. Maybe a week after returning, I took off the pendant to shower and I forgot to put it back on. Actually, I forgot about it entirely.
So no, I don’t think about Ecuador everyday, and sometimes it makes me sad to realize that. But I also think that that’s okay, because our experience is something that I keep with me in the back of my mind. Like something that’s always there, but not always noticeable. Like a freckle on the back of your hand. Like breathing.
The article only makes this stronger in me, because our experience in Ecuador is one experience that informs my own personal idea of and commitment to service. It reminds me why I serve and why service is necessary all over the world. I care about everyone’s backyard, you see (including my own).
However, the article did give me something new. When Sajan said, “I’d like to trade with you,” I was floored. Certainly, we had talked over the whole experience about how the people of Ecuador are so happy with so little. But…Sajan would still trade with me. This is the takeaway I get from the article. This is what hasn’t left me since I read it so many weeks ago. Sajan would like choice and opportunity and she would probably want fancy clothes and food too. I’m sure she’s happy where she is, because she hasn’t known anything different. It’s not to say that Sajan necessarily wants everything Western and therefore we should give those in poverty in developing countries democracy and teach them to drive cars and McDonald’s for everyone! But I feel that sometimes we as Americans use the excuses “they’re happy as they are” or “I don’t want to force Western ideals on them” as a reason to butt out. True, we don’t know exactly what people want, and certainly they don’t all want the same thing. But choice and opportunity is something that’s pretty rare…and I think that’s what we need to fight for.
P.S. Started AmeriCorps TODAY!
Do you think you’ll be enacting real change?
After everything we’ve discussed in our meetings, especially the danger of a “single story” about people, I’m going to have to say no…and yes. I don’t think that whatever I do in Ecuador will be changing anyone’s life, because I’m just one volunteer on one service trip. I hope that our efforts will have at least the smallest impact on a child’s happiness, but real change? Real change, I think, will be what will happen with me. I’ve volunteered on many service projects and done lots of “community service” but I have never really reflected much on it until CHANGE Break. Our meetings have forced me to look at myself as a volunteer and as a servant, and examine my true motivations.
Honestly, I feel that the fact that we can look at our trip and say, “yeah, we won’t be changing the world” makes CHANGE Break that more important. We shouldn’t want to change the whole world while we’re in Quito, Ecuador! We should instead focus on individuals, learning about them and doing whatever we can (however miniscule in the long run) to improve their lives.
Most of us plan on bringing a camera with us when embark on our trip to Ecuador. Of course, right?! Cameras are very useful at documenting memories. But, so are our words. In fact, writing may be able to describe memories better than pictures, since you can not only paint pictures with words, but include your thoughts, feelings, and descriptions of the sounds and smells around you. Consider this when you’re blogging for CHANGE Break, and also consider bringing a journal with you (with a physical journal, you could also draw or paste souvenirs inside!). You’re not required to do this of course, but it could benefit you in the long run.
For our first blog post, just reflect on your expectations of our service trip. Choose to answer at least one of these questions:
1) What are you most looking forward to?
2) What are you most nervous about?
3) Do you think you’ll be enacting real change?
4) Or, after reflecting, write about whatever you’d like that’s relating to our trip!
Quito, Ecuador, where we will be spending 11 days of service this summer.
At 9,350 ft., Quito is the highest official capital city in the world. The approximately 2,000,000 population city is sprawled through a valley at the foot of Guagua Pichincha volcano, an active volcano of the Andes Mountains.
Quito was ruled by the Spanish for over 300 years, beginning in 1534 with the defeat of the Caras and Quitu indigenous peoples. The Quitu had occupied the area since the first millennium.
This piece is an artist’s interpretation of Quito circa the mid-eighteenth century. Uprisings against the Spanish began in 1809, and concluded in 1822 with the independence of Quito and the surrounding areas.