The Perks of Always Getting Lost

By Christine Kelly

Found a rainbow on my walk home from the bus stop

On the first day of my internship, I allotted myself an hour time slot for a trip that would take 30 minutes. I was not trying to make a good first impression by being obnoxiously early, but rather account for the inevitable loss of direction that I would experience. To no surprise, I used nearly all of the extra half-hour to find the building. It’s safe to say that navigation is not one of my strong suits.


Anyone who knows me is well aware that I lack an internal compass. Even with Google Maps telling me exactly how many steps to take before my turn, I am incapable of comprehending the simplest of directions. I’ve always thought of this as a personal limitation and was often scared to go to new places alone. It’s especially daunting now that I’m in a foreign country where I can barely speak the language. Although the absence of my mental grid can be extremely inconvenient in situations with time constraints or potential danger, I am slowly coming to appreciate it more and more. 


Last week after work, I decided to meet up with some friends at a local park. As a result, I was forced to stray from my usual route back to the bus stop. I knew myself well enough to not even attempt to find my way alone at dusk; even with the help of a companion, I still found myself disoriented and unfamiliar with my location. I commented about how interesting the street murals were and how I wanted to visit the café we had just passed. I was intrigued by this new change of scenery—only to be informed by my friend that we had walked this road in the other direction about four times in the past two weeks.


For the most part, I had been able to avoid situations of disorientation at home in Pennsylvania. I lived in the same small town for 18 years and knew the area like the back of my hand. Driving to areas outside of my 15 mile radius of comfort, however, was a different story. Luckily, I had been gifted 3 car GPS systems for Christmas that could guide me down every road. I missed my turn more times than I can count, but the stern GPS voice reprimanded me as soon as I made a mistake and instantly rerouted itself. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same technology in Cuenca and my brain is not exactly equipped for rerouting. I don’t have my GPS and can’t use Google Maps, so I’ve been forcing myself to become more geographically sound.


It takes approximately five visits to the same location before I can begin to recognize my surroundings. This seems a bit ridiculous, but I am lucky in the fact that everything always seems new and exciting. I could walk through the same park three different times and still feel a sense of amazement and wonder upon each new visit. Besides my naivety, I have also been making a conscious effort to take mental notes of where I am, in hopes that I can learn to improve my navigation skills. This has allowed me to find places that others may never have noticed, such as hidden cafes or stores.


When I am finally able to get places without relying on a navigation app or another person, I feel a sense of accomplishment and independence. This new sense of independence can be extremely challenging, but it also comes with great reward. It is comforting to find spots of familiarity in such a new, foreign land. During the unavoidable situations where I do find myself lost, I’m forced to practice my Spanish in order to get directions. Putting myself in these positions of discomfort has granted me the opportunity to talk to new people and get one step closer to achieving language fluency. 


These small victories and moments of excitement make every day more positive. I also have an excuse to invite friends along to new areas that I want to explore. My directional incompetency makes life more enjoyable, and allows for great stories!

La Comisión de Gestión Ambiental offices— the building I could not find on my first day of work