by Chastidy Vasconez
During the holidays, I longed to be back home in Los Angeles. I missed my friends and family, and the thought of flying home filled me with a surge of excitement. I still feel that excitement, but the sentiment is now mixed with feelings of sadness, too. Ecuador has become a second home to me.
I now realize how much I will miss my host family and my whole experience abroad. My host family has been incredibly welcoming, accepting, and supportive of me since the time I arrived last September. Martha, my host mom, could easily read how I was feeling from day one. During the evenings, when other extended family members would come over and conversation would go far into the night, she could sense when I felt uneasy. So, she actively tried to engage me in conversations, retelling stories and giving context when I couldn’t understand. And at times, when I felt too timid to dismiss myself, she let me know it was okay to go up to my room. During my first week of Spanish classes, she took the bus with me every day to help me learn my route. She pointed out different places along the way so that I could become familiar with Cuenca. Then, she would quiz me to see if I remembered. On days where she could see I was sad, she would come into my room to talk, cry, and hug it out, reminding me that I was strong and brave. In the evenings, I played card games with Martha and her daughter Sammy, laughing over our favorite game that consisted of shouting animal noises and snatching away each other’s cards. We took trips to Alausi, Giron, and Ingapirca—places all outside of Cuenca—because they expressed that they truly wanted me to get the most out of my experience and to get to know more of Ecuador. Having an amazing host family I could lean on has meant a great deal to me.
It’s been a challenge being away from home and everything I was so familiar with. But luckily, I’ve had a wonderful host family I could go home to after stressful days. During my time here, I’ve also been able to find a community in the everyday small talk with strangers on the bus, in the vendors selling the best tasting fruit, and in the salsa class I coaxed myself into joining. The kindness and empathy I’ve been shown since the beginning has allowed me to find my footing and gather the strength I needed to be open-minded and courageous during my time abroad. I grew the confidence I needed to explore new places and discover new interests, creating new memories that I will forever carry with me. For that I am extremely grateful.