This I Believe

Emily - Goshen, Indiana
Entered on November 1, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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New, different, uncomfortable, and overwhelming.

Unique, beautiful, enlightening, and captivating.

My world was dramatically altered upon my first trip to Ecuador. It was a learning experience through which I gained a new outlook on life.

I am barely 21 years old and I believe in the power of cross-cultural experiences.

I am a white, middle-class, college student who was oblivious to the realities of life outside the lavishness and comfort America provided me growing up. My plane carried me to a country waiting to show this gringa what life is like in the rest of the world. Up into the Andes I went, where indigenous is not just an adjective, but who you are and how you live.

I lived where the pipes provide water only every other day. Where Animals—cows, pigs, chickens, and rats—run free. It takes twenty minutes for me to hand wash just one pair of pants, which are filthy from the dirt roads. No washer or dryer. My pants hang on the clothesline for two days waiting to dry, but they never do, so I must wear them anyways, feeling the damp cloth against my skin.

I am struck by the community here. It doesn’t matter that they live in poverty. What matters is that they have each other. A collective pride and care runs deep in this community, between mothers, sons, neighbors, bus drivers, and store owners. They are one. And I have never in my life thus far experienced a community come together like this.

If people move into the neighborhood everyone comes to help build a house for them. The teenage brothers next door come. The young family down the street comes. The elderly grandparents from up the hill come. Everyone unites, and I learn from this.

I question myself and my values. What is really important in this world anyway? Would I still be happy in America if all my money and luxuries were taken away from me?

And so I begin to learn from this experience in Ecuador. I realize there are millions of places in the world I will never be able to experience, yet this one trip has changed who I am, what I cherish in this world, and what I dream of doing with my life.

The more I learned about the Ecuadorians, the more I learned about myself. My life has just begun, and I believe in the power of cross-cultural experiences.