-How are you feeling since our return to the states?
Wow! It has been a little over a month since we have arrived back to the United States from Ecuador, and I can feel a huge difference in the way that I see the world around me here the United States. I have realized how privileged we are as Americans. Sometimes, as Americans, we are unintentionally blind, to the privileges and freedoms we have in our own backyard. This past 4th of July I had a great sense of pride and gratefulness for my country because so many others do not even have the basic freedoms that we have. Not only have I found a deeper appreciation for my country, the CHANGEbreak experience has changed me personally. I have striven to be more compassionate, understanding, and empathetic towards others. I strive to be more giving. I was inspired to become more compassionate and giving by the shear selflessness and love showed by the students, teachers, and the people of Ecuador. Everyone we met while in Ecuador was so nice and inviting….and really happy and energetic. That was the energy I wanted to bring back to the US. I have loved telling family, friends, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers about my time in Ecuador! It is my opportunity to shed a little light on a country they may not know much about or remove the single stories that may be scarred into their minds. I just enjoy educating people about the experience (the good, bad, and the great!) I know that I definitely want to continue traveling and working with these populations in other countries. I am just so fulfilled and inspired by the work. Not only is it a transformational experience to learn and discover new things about a country and its people, but also a chance to learn more about oneself. There is nothing more beautiful than that.
-Does anything from the article strike you or relate to our CHANGE Break experience? Why?
That article and my experience in Ecuador are very similar. I felt a lot of the same emotions and had the same thoughts during my time in the country. I found myself questioning, why this country had less opportunity than the US? Why would the students normally drop out of school around 8th grade? Why is there no assistance for families that are going through hard times? Realistically, I was questioning, why do people from one country have more privilege than another country? During my time in country, I had a lot of my questions answered by a professor that taught in Quito, Ecuador. As the article stated, I found myself understanding those privileges, but I felt that the people of Ecuador deserved all the same privileges and opportunities that were, unknowingly, given to me. In America, I think a lot of people want more, more, and more…stuff. But when you see someone your same age or even younger who has so much less and is totally content, it makes you wonder why you wanted all that “stuff” in the first place. There was less social mobility in Ecuador, which means fewer opportunities for those who live in poor areas in Ecuador just as in various parts of Asia. It is unfortunate that opportunities are so rare, especially when you have people in a country that want to work to provide a better living for themselves and their family. One vivid memory that still sticks with me is when the students, (most of them around the age of 5), would offer me their food after English class. To some people, that may have been seen as just a nice gesture, but for me it was very significant. Because the students were so young, they may not have known the significance behind that gesture. These students are from rather poor families, and the fact that they would offer me their food was extraordinary. They are young and may not understand how little they have, but they were still so giving. It was a lesson for me to give more because I understand how much I can and should give.
Since returning to the US, my world view on international issues has been challenged. Recently on the national news, there has been immense media coverage of undocumented children and adults crossing the Mexican- US border to get into the United States. A conversation about this situation arose during dinner at one of my friend’s house. My friend and some of his family members came to a consensus about how to solve the situation. They suggested that those children and adults should be “shot dead for crossing the border.” When this was said I about had a heart attack, and I was so appalled by what I was hearing. It was so ignorant and inhumane for someone to even think about doing something like that to people who honestly want to come to the US for more opportunity. But instead of bursting out into a heated argument, I discussed the issue with them with compassion and defended why those “trespassing immigrants” want to come here in the first place. I talked about my time in Ecuador, the lack of opportunity, and the children. Instead of starting a battle of arguments that would have made the situation worse, I choose to educate. They later apologized for having said such dehumanizing words. I understand that they have not experienced other cultures and people like I have, but if they did they would have been more compassionate. They are not at all bad people. In fact, I love the family. But I think everyone could be a little more understanding and compassionate towards other human being regardless of their nationality. Honestly, what makes Americans more worthy of the opportunities that the US has to offer rather than others? Is it just because we were born on the land that we deserve the opportunities? That may be true, but I think we could always extend the opportunity for others to experience freedom.
I am so grateful for my experience in Ecuador. It will be a memory that will last forever. An experience I will tell my children, grandchildren, and they will tell their children. I get the opportunity to share my experiences with others through storytelling, which allows me to change hearts and minds.
This is only the end to a beautiful beginning of traveling and learning.