by Luke, Tufts 1+4 Participant
The moment had finally arrived. Abuelita Carmen, Julian, Emilio, and I looked out onto the single, empty landing strip—waiting, waiting, waiting. After four months I was about to see my family from the States face-to-face again. Would they recognize me? Would they notice how I had changed? How had they changed? We had spent this time away pursuing our individual adventures, crafting our own narratives. What would it mean to be reunited again?
I was ripped out of my thoughts by the sudden appearance of a plane (THEIR PLANE!) landing. Emotions overwhelmed me—a sudden wave that tightened my chest and brought tears to my eyes. The plane came to a stop after taxiing off the runway, and a stairway was placed to connect the door of the plane to the tarmac. Suitcases were being unloaded—waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally, passengers started to disembark. Not them. . .not them. . .and suddenly I spotted my younger brother and then my mom and dad and older brother. Four human beings who to anyone else were just strangers going down the stairs to the tarmac but to me were the four people who had raised me, challenged me, encouraged me, made me laugh and cry and scream and dream.
The first few days with my family were overwhelming. There were moments where I felt as if nothing had changed and then moments where I felt like a complete stranger. For me, it seemed like there was this collision between the person that I had become and the person that my family knew me as.
I tried to give my family a taste of what life was like for me in Cuenca. This is my host family, the people who show me so much love and patience every day. This is my room, where I have solo dance parties, moonwalking (unsuccessfully!) across the floor, music blasting through my headphones after a long day. This is where I buy the BEST CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS I HAVE EVER TASTED. This is where I hang my clothes to dry. This is where I catch the bus in the morning. This is the market where I discover delicious new fruit. This is Fundación Crea Tu Espacio where I work. On and on and on.
But my description of these places and people does not tell the full story nor does it embody all of the emotions and mistakes and memories that complete the picture. There is an impossible gap to fill, nuances that can not be explained that will forever be known only by me.
On New Years Eve, we celebrated with both of my families. My host family prepared nothing short of a feast, putting hours into making the ham and aji and llapingachos. The food was delicious, and we all went for seconds and thirds under the approving eye of Abuelita. After dinner, we welcomed the new year with a muñeca burning to ash in the street and fireworks exploding in the sky. I remember the feeling of gratitude—for my families, for the ability to live in this beautiful moment, and for having this experience of a bridge year.
I would love to say that my time with my family was filled with only positive moments. But that is not the case. I would be sharing an incomplete story, one that does not accurately portray the complexity of our time spent together.
There were moments that were frustrating and awkward. We went to a fancy restaurant with Abuelita Carmen, sharing a lavish meal together. My host family and I never went to restaurants. When I glanced at Abuelita and saw the look of hesitation and unease etched into her face, discomfort bloomed in my chest. I had been oblivious as to how this experience would make Abuelita feel. I realized how often I had been to restaurants in my life, not even thinking twice about how lucky we were to have that ability. I found myself ruminating on this thought so much that it prevented me from being fully present during the meal.
Confronted with a situation like this, I realized how in the past I never really checked my privilege; I was so comfortable in the environment I had been raised that I neglected to think critically about what that meant. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and confused. It was difficult for me to accept how blind I had been to the differences between my families. Remaining ignorant about these differences did not make them nonexistent. Going to this dinner demonstrated to me a powerful lesson about life, a lesson that I am still learning and will forever be learning.
In the past, it has been hard for me to be honest when dealing with difficult emotions and to ask questions that elicit these difficult emotions. This bridge year has taught me that an abbreviated version of a story that only highlights the happy moments is a disservice that impedes true, deep learning. If anything, I hope to move more mindfully through this world, remembering to check my privilege often and keeping in mind how this privilege has facilitated my life journey.