Traveling abroad to Ecuador changes one student’s worldview

In Ecuador, I changed immensely. I realized that life should not be measured by the number of credentials on your resume.

In Ecuador, I changed immensely. I realized that life should not be measured by the number of credentials on your resume.

I consider myself a Heinz 57 American.

I have descendants from a large handful of European countries, and I’ve never known much about or connected with any of my cultures.

I never understood how it felt to be proud of your culture or why keeping your culture alive was important until studying abroad.

But, when I studied abroad, I fell in love with a culture that is not mine.

I embraced what it meant to be Ecuadorian, and now I do not know what the next step is.

I have been back in the United States for a little over a month. I think I am at an emotionally stable enough point that I can objectively assess how studying abroad has changed my worldview and will forever impact my life decisions.

Gosh, I sound like a cliché face of the Office of International Education.

It is how I feel though. It is hard to explain, and I feel like no one understands where I am coming from. Sorry for sounding like a dramatic teenager.

In Ecuador, I changed immensely. I realized that life should not be measured by the number of credentials on your resume.

I realized that life is not about completing the next milestones; it is about the journey. It is about the people you take on that journey with you; your smiles and your positive impact in other’s lives.

Life is about building relationships. It’s about family. It does not have to be rushed, superficial and planned. South of the equator, I learned that some of the most beautiful aspects of life and friendships blossom in the lack of plans.

When I came home, I felt lost.

The feeling has tapered a bit, but all I wanted to do was talk about Ecuador. I was surprised to find out that many people could not care less about my experience.

Many people politely asked, “So how was it?”

Most of those people just want to hear “good,” and keep going on with their day.

Most people do not want to hear that I started questioning everything that I have grown up accepting as the capital “T” truth.

The United States is not the best country in the world.

The United States might be the best country for medical research or other specific objectives, but I think I have learned that, even in poverty and lack of development, other countries have so much to offer.

Ecuador is not the best country in the world either. I think the point is that there is not one.

People at St. Edward’s University have a global outlook, and many here have studied abroad and have been genuinely interested.

However, that wasn’t necessarily the case in Andover, KS — my hometown and where I spent the winter break.

Being back at St. Edward’s has helped a lot. It helps to be busy and surround myself with good friends that I am so thankful for.

However, I have almost kissed people on the cheek to greet them. I have programmed my radio to the Latino station, 102.7. And, I take every opportunity I can to speak Spanish.

I make Ecuadorian food at my house. I miss my friends and my host family, the incomparable mountain views, nightly loose-leaf tea, going out and dancing and so many other aspects of Ecuadorian life.

Reverse culture shock is real, and it’s difficult. It’s more intense than regular culture shock because it’s unexpected.

What happened is that I’ve changed immensely, but the world that I knew for my whole life stayed the same. But, now I interpret it completely different.

Nothing has changed, but somehow I feel as if everything is different.

The minute I entered the Houston airport and was overwhelmed by all of the English, I knew this transition was going to be difficult.

There was so much arguing. I was being rushed and the TSA officials were yelling intensely about every little inconsequential thing. Welcome to the United States of America.

So where is the balance?

Where is the balance between making sure I am not living in a culture that is not mine vicariously through various forms of social media and maintaining the more well-rounded, patient, calm, accepting Shelby that Ecuador created. In Ecuador, I felt what it was like to be stress free for the first time in my life. I learned to have fun in the moment and truly embrace life. 

I learned about an outlook where I assume that nothing is going to work and all plans will fall through. And, I learned that outlook leads to a more content life than assuming everything will go as planned and being frustrated when it does not.

People in Ecuador have so much more to complain about, but they do not. Ecuadorians hardly complain. In the first week I was back, I heard more complaining than in the four months I was away. That has been difficult. 

I went through a phase in Ecuador where I did not want to come home. I am happy I did though. I cannot hide from reality and pretend I am an Ecuadorian.

I also need to remember that my experience abroad was jaded. I lived in a bubble. I lived with a family that did not have financial struggles, which is not the reality for the majority of Ecuadorian families. I had basically no responsibilities.

All I had to do was go to class, have fun and learn Spanish. 

I am happy to be back. Ecuador will always hold one of the most special places in my heart. I am happy to be back and contribute to Hilltop Views, to have a normal routine, to graduate, to find a real grown-up job, and to spend one more semester with my best friends.

However, it is difficult to be so connected to a place that the majority of United States citizens cannot even identify on a map.