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¡Chao Ecuador!

May 19, 2019

I have no idea how this happened, but my program officially ended last Sunday—I must say, it still hasn't hit me yet. The last few weeks were filled with final papers and presentations, so I was so busy studying I didn't register that exam week meant the end of the program. I started to think about it the day we had our farewell gathering with all the IES Abroad students and the dinner with members of our host families. My host brother came with me to the dinner and, although we all had a fun time catching up on weekend adventures we'd gone on and people we'd met along the way, the sadness couldn't help but trickle into every conversation. We all knew that this was it, the last goodbye, and we didn't want it to end. Luckily for me, I had decided to spend roughly $1,000 extra dollars to go to Peru for a week with two of my best friends from the program, so I didn't have to say goodbye to EVERYONE just yet.

What I had expected to be a mind-boggling, one-of-a-kind experience turned out to be as incredible as anticipated given the places we toured—particularly Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain—yet it was a lot more difficult than I had first imagined. I didn't expect way back in March that I would be as sad to leave my host family as I ended up feeling throughout my trip to Peru. The feeling of being loved by them as if I were really their daughter and sister snuck up on me throughout the semester, making it much harder to contemplate returning to the States and leaving my newfound family behind in Ecuador.

Every night for the past few weeks, I have thought back on the memories I have made with them, from horseback riding to hiking to making brownies with my Ecuadorian niece and mixing the batter with our hands...each memory starts out with lots of laughter, yet every time I can't help but tear up as I remember I'll be returning "home" without them. Home is an interesting term we've coined to mean the place in which you grew up, but I must say that home isn't the structure of the house, but rather the people you meet along the road of life that bring you feelings of joy and gratitude for the experiences you've gained. I have several different homes, from my parents in Indianapolis to my friends at Indiana University, and most recently, to my host family in Ecuador. I do my best to live my life without regrets, and although I certainly don't regret studying abroad in Ecuador, I will 100% miss my Ecuadorian family and friends I have made throughout this semester, which makes leaving bittersweet.

I am glad to be returning home after 4.5 months abroad, but I'll also be leaving home behind as soon as I step foot on the plane. I'm excited to arrive in Indianapolis to hug my parents, but I'm not at all looking forward to leaving Quito, Ecuador, and hugging my newest family goodbye. Ecuador was my first plane ride overseas, the first country (aside from Canada) to which I traveled, the first time in my life I felt entirely capable of overcoming whatever wrench would be thrown into my plans...Ecuador has taught me a mountain of things I never expected to learn during my semester abroad, especially the mental importance of going with the flow instead of trying to control every situation.

Life is a game—depending on the players, it can be long or short, fun or difficult, exciting or boring. Living in Ecuador helped me realize I'd rather play an adventurous game, breaking the rules occasionally, than spend the entire game memorizing the rule book. The laid-back attitude of Ecuadorians certainly got on my nerves at times, but it really helped me recognize that we aren't alive to compare ourselves to others. We are alive to embrace the unknown, to jump headfirst into the water and allow ourselves to get swept away by the current, to simply enjoy the brilliance of the world around (and within) us.

My classes weren't as homework-heavy as my classes in the U.S., but I honestly think I learned more because I didn't spend all my time trying to memorize every article. Instead, I read a few chapters of a book, took time to contemplate the author's original purpose and then gave a presentation about my thoughts to a class of two or three students. Without the constant stress of exams breathing down my neck, I could enjoy the cultural experience Quito offers, hiking up mountains, visiting artisan markets and spending quality time with my host family. I even got to know myself a little bit better—who knew I had an affinity for horseback riding or longed to be an older sister or would become enthralled by conversing for hours in Spanish?

I'd be lying if I said Ecuador was everything I expected it would be, but I'd also be lying if I said it didn't turn out as well as I'd imagined. Maybe I didn't make a lot of Ecuadorian friends my own age or completely rid myself of the U.S.'s influence on my taste in music, but I did gain a devoted family, a hilarious niece, and an adventurous spirit.

As my semester in Ecuador comes to an end, I'd love to thank everyone who has helped me become who I am today, especially my family in the States, my Ecuadorian family, my IES Abroad professors, the friends I met over the last four months, and myself for being excited to take on the challenges of living abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. I'm happy to say I learned much more than I imagined about myself and Latin America in the process and loved every second of the difficult, inspiring, aggravatingly spontaneous experience.

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