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You don’t know how lucky you are boy

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!

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More Than a Moment in Time

Initially after returning from CHANGE Break, I had all good feelings.  I was still riding the high from having such an incredible experience serving in the school and exploring Ecuador.  With each day, these feelings started to fade; they became more distant and further removed.  My CHANGE Break experience started to become an event, just a moment in time, and I began to forget how I felt so alive, inspired, and motivated to become a more active citizen–not just someone who serves in isolated events, but someone who lives a life of service.  

I started to really think about why I chose to become a part of international CHANGE Breaks.  I have heard the critiques of serving abroad many times…

“Why do you travel to countries abroad when we Americans have so many challenges at home to worry about?”  

“Look at the problems in your own backyard.”

But I realized that me choosing to engage in the global community is not the same as making the choice to turn my back on the communities I am a part of here in the United States. Instead, I am choosing to broaden my horizons and understanding of the world, while simultaneously attempting to address problems both here and abroad.  I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life, and I don’t want to take this privilege for granted.  The reason I decided to participate in CHANGE Break, and ultimately the reason I fell in love with the program, is not because I would be travelling abroad to go “help” some people for twelve days or go and “fix” any of their problems.  It is because throughout the CHANGE Break experience, including all of the team meetings, days of service, reflections, and cultural learning, I am constantly learning and growing.  I am able to better understand the beauty in humanity and appreciate all the things to take for granted.  I am able to open my heart to others and allow them to make a lasting impact on how I see the world.  I am able to realize that “talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”  By removing myself from my everyday routine and immersing in a new, and at times uncomfortable, environment, I am able to see my own “privilege and responsibilities.”  All of things are not about the things that I did while in Ecuador, but how they impacted me and the hope that I was able to bring a little happiness to others while there. 

“In some quarters in America, it’s considered glamorous to volunteer in Tanzania, but not to mentor a child on the wrong side of the tracks. That’s myopic. But I think it’s also shortsighted to insist that we solve all of our own problems before beginning to address those abroad.”

Service-learning isn’t valued by where it takes place or who is involved.  Compassion should be universal—for all human beings, and I believe that I should strive to act compassionately towards everyone and seek to learn from them.  Since I have returned home, I have reflected frequently on the interactions I have with people every day.  I have realized that I get so caught up in what I am doing and what I have to do next that I often lose sight of what I learned during my time in Ecuador—every person deserves to be treated with respect and consideration for the simple fact that they are also a human being.  I want to be more purposeful in my relationships and interactions with others.  I want to get rid of my check-list mentality and show others that I value them as a person, how they are feeling, and what is going on in their life through my everyday actions.  I want to focus on the little things—the things that I usually don’t pay much mind to.  I want to constantly reflect on my experiences with CHANGE Break and challenge myself to not let it become a moment in time.

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Back in the USA

Since returning to the United States, life has returned to “normal”. I have spent the last month working, in meetings, and hanging out with friends in my free time, which is the typical agenda of my life. I think that is one of the hardest things that I have had to deal with since coming back: everything here is so routine. In Ecuador, everything was so new for me, and I was constantly excited to be doing new things and challenged by all of the different things that I was encountering. I guess that it is very easy to step outside of your routine when you are in a new country with different customs and a different native language, and I definitely find myself missing that a lot. Another aspect of returning to America that I have struggled with is getting caught up in my schedule and all of the little things that are going on around me. When we were in Ecuador, we were so laid back and focused on the important things: communicating with one another, volunteering at the school, trying new things, etc. I feel like my mind has been on overload since I have been back and so often I find myself thinking about things that are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I was very worried that I would return to LSU and not be able to “make a difference” or feel as satisfied as I did after returning from Ecuador. Luckily, I had the opportunity this summer to serve as a Parent Orientation Leader and put so many of my new and enhanced skills to use. I am leaving the orientation experience knowing that I did my best, and I (hopefully) helped parents and families adjust to their students’ transition to college as well as easing their own fears about the big changes going on in their own households.

After reading the article, there were two statements that really left a mark on me. “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” I reread this quote after I saw it the first time because it was so remarkable , and when I think about our experience in Ecuador, I could not agree more with this statement. It is so true that the family, country, or situation that we are born into defines our lives. It can be a blessing for some and unfortunate for others, and it all depends on things that we cannot control. We met some incredible people in Ecuador, especially at the school that we were volunteering at. It hurts sometimes to realize the privilege that I have been given throughout my life and then wonder why the kids or the teachers at that school were not given the life that I was. Frankly, it is not very fair, but they always say that life is not fair. However, what is fair is that we all have the capacity to care and love one another, and this thought is perfectly summed up by the second quote from the article: “compassion shouldn’t depend, one way or the other, on the color of one’s skin.” That is the most important lesson that I learned from my time in Ecuador, and it is something that I hope to hold onto for the rest of my life. The kids and teachers looked different than us, and we spoke different languages; however, that did not stop us from showing an immense amount of love to each other. I left that school in tears because I realized how much the teachers and kids actually cared about us and how much we cared about them. I never wanted to leave because I had never felt love that strong before. When leaving for Ecuador, I was hoping that we could go in and impact the lives of the Ecuadorian people, but I never thought about how much they would impact our lives. I will always be thankful for this experience, and I sincerely hope that I can end up back in Ecuador some day. One last time: #GeauxEcuador

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“Each morning we are born again. What we do today matters most.”-Buddha

I read this quote recently and could not agree with it more. Each day, we are given the opportunity to renew ourselves, make a change, make a difference. Since returning from Ecuador, I have vowed to live by this philosophy.

The experience I had at the school in Quito opened my eyes once again to just how lucky Americans are and how easy it is to forget that. It is our responsibility as citizens of the US to never take for granted the privileges we are given merely because we were born in this country. There are numerous opportunities where we live to contribute something meaningful to society and not take advantage of the stereotypical American lifestyle.

Upon my return from Ecuador, I decided to start volunteering my time at a war veteran’s home close to where I live. My experience there taught me how serving others stateside can result in a similar feeling of serving those abroad. We can always do something. Our job is to never stop doing and never forget that people need people. We’re living in this world, not to consume it, but to contribute to it, making a difference in the process.

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The End of a Beautiful Beginning….

-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 have 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.

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IT’S SEAUX CLOSE!

Now that I have gotten the MCAT behind me, all I can think about is our upcoming trip to Ecuador. This summer has been so busy up until now that it never really sunk in what exactly I was about to take a part in. This is more than just a trip; this is an experience of a lifetime that we are about to embark on. This is a journey unlike anything that I have ever experienced, but my heart is filled with nothing but joy and excitement with only four days left until we leave.

Having never been out of the country before, I don’t know what exactly to expect. Of course, I’ve heard all these stories and we’ve prepared as a team for things that we will encounter in the country. However, there is something special about leaving a place you know so well and going to an entirely new and different location. It’s a little nerve-racking, but I am absolutely exhilarated to have the chance to have an eye-opening experience like this one.

If there is one thing that LSU has taught me, it is to have an open mind about everything. I don’t think being open-minded has ever been more important in my life than right now as we are almost ready to set out on a trip to a completely different country with a way of life that will most likely strongly contrast the culture in the United States. It will probably be interesting adapting to a new place, a new city, and new customs. However, the key to adjusting to all of these “new” things is to look at our similarities and what brings us together rather than focusing on the customs that some people might deem as “strange”.

I can say without a doubt that I am ready for Ecuador and everything that this experience will bring. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to have another experience like this so I am going to make the most of it while I’m there. We have prepared for months for this, and now it is finally here. I am ready to give this trip to Ecuador everything that I have while standing alongside some amazing people from the greatest university in the nation.

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CHANGE Break Departure Post

I am so excited about my opportunity to travel to Ecuador this summer! This is so going to be an amazing trip. Having the opportunity to serve as one of the team leaders has taught me so much about myself as well as what it means to be a servant leader. Traveling to Ecuador with this group of students is one aspect of the trip that makes me smile. Our meetings over the course of this past school year has created bonds that will last a life time. I                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             wake up and pinch myself daily because my dreams are coming true. This will be my first international service trip but it most certainly will not be my last. It has always been my belief that if you can inspire the man you can change the world. I believe my trip to Ecuador will be the inspiration that I need in my life right now. I look forward to the memories we will all make as well the nee stories we are writing in the book called the rest of our lives.

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Round Two

I have been fortunate enough to serve on a CHANGE Break experience in Cusco and Cai Cay, Peru last year, and now I am preparing to help lead a team in Quito, Ecuador.  Being a part of the Peru team as a freshman and having the opportunity to learn and serve in a completely new environment was a humbling experience and one that has helped define my college experience thus far.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to continue my growth with CHANGE Break this year and help other student leaders also embark on an incredible service learning experience.  With only about ten days until we depart, I am anxious but also very excited.  I hope that we have covered all of our bases to help the students prepare; however, I am confident that we will be flexible and make the best of our experience.  My greatest wish is that this experience is impactful for everyone in some way.  Our intentions are not to “change the world” in this one experience.  Instead, we hope to help enact some change, but mostly to help the students discover personal change–a change in perspective, mentality, and understanding.  Upon returning, I want to challenge the team members to continue their service and also advocate for others to find their passion to serve.

We have had many meaningful conversations this year about what it means to serve and the importance of perspective.  I was very inspired by the team member’s ideas, and I hope to continue these conversations while we are in-country and after returning to our daily lives here.  The experience does not end once we land on U.S. soil.  It is our responsibility to constantly reflect on what we have learned and use these lessons to improve the community around us.

I am most looking forward to watching the team transform from a group of people who have gotten to know each other casually while meeting throughout the year to a team that has shared experiences that will stay with them for a very long time.  It is the group transformation, as well as the individual transformations that I am most excited to experience.  Additionally, I am excited about the opportunity to listen, observe, and learn from those I encounter in Quito.  It is not all about what I can give, but what I can learn.

I am ready for round two.  Ready to forget all of the chaos of day to day life and take the time to enjoy the beauty in people again.  One of my favorite quotes describes my feelings towards CHANGE Break and volunteering in general: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” by Mahatma Gandhi.  With this experience I hope to continue on my journey of self discovery by serving and learning from others.  More than that, though, I hope to help my teammates personally grow.

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Blog #1: Before Departure

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!

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The City of Quito

quito

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 old

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.

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