Change is unavoidable. It can be good, it can be bad, it can be both. The key to change is whether you resist it or welcome it.
I know I have welcomed changed on this trip, but how? I can do my best to answer now, but at this moment I don’t feel I can give a complete answer. Trying to figure out everything that’s different about me, I think, will take spending a while back at home and being reminded of what life is like in the U.S. It’s like when you walk away from a conversation and think of the perfect thing to say a couple hours later. That kind of realization comes from hindsight, but this blog doesn’t continue into next semester. Therefore, I will do my best to try and delve into what I can see at this moment in time that has transformed within me.
Before traveling around Latin America, I had never been out of the United States. I had never seen or climbed mountains. I had never spoken Spanish. I had never lived with a family that wasn’t my own. I had never experienced first-hand a different culture. I had never dreamed that I could actually go places I had only seen to do things I had only heard about. I had never eaten guinea pig. Check, Check, check… My bucket list will be significantly shorter after this. All of these experiences, and so many more, have made me feel quite small, which doesn’t happen that often to a 5’11” female. However, it hasn’t been so much the places and activities that made me feel like this, but meeting the people. I had never put life into this perspective coming from my small farm town and going to a small liberal arts school in the Midwest. Because of all these people that I’ve met and gotten to know, the one thing that I already know has changed for me personally is an increased sense of understanding…not just of other cultures, but of myself as well.
I knew little to nothing about Latin America or the culture before coming here, and now I know a great deal, including how people here live. They place much less emphasis on materialistic goods and instead invest in relationships with families and communities. I’ve learned that this culture is extremely laid back and the people here live together as communities, not as individuals. I’ve also learned about myself and how to be patient, which is a big feat since I am naturally a very impatient person in most cases. I’ve learned that I really do like home despite how much I tend to complain about it sometimes.
I understand now not just how others live their lives, but why. It has caused me to question my own motives for how I live my life and whether my motives are rational or legitimate. Some of my decisions, I find, can be rather empty of reason. This is my senior year of college, and I’m realizing because of this experience that sometimes I simply go through the motions. I’ve been planning on going on to graduate school for many years now, but is that what I want? Meeting and learning about people in South America makes me see the bigger picture on what kinds of motives should fuel my choices. People here consider their friends, family, and what would make them happy, not necessarily what will make them the most successful in other’s eyes. This reminds me of my host brother Paúl from Ecuador, who would do anything for his family. I could tell that he was genuinely happy putting his family first and that he was going to college because he had a purpose and wanted to learn. He wanted to be successful for personal pride and to help his family, not to impress others.
The people I’ve met here aren’t caught up in the fast-paced U.S. culture, but instead take the time to stop and smell the roses. After this, I don’t think I’ll be taking as much for granted when I get home. I see how the people here treat each other and it has affected me deeply. Now I have more initiative to go out and find what it is I want my own to life to mean, and to figure out how I want to live my life without major societal influences telling me what to do. I haven’t necessarily figured out my place in the world yet, but being here is inspiring me to reevaluate where that place should be according to the bigger picture. I am fully welcoming this change within me, and it is a lesson I will carry with me the rest of my life.