By Zach Everett
As I’ve been approaching my last month here in Ecuador, something that’s constantly been on my mind has been gratitude and how I can thank the people who have played a role in making my gap year as positive as it has been. When I think about the people who I am thankful for here, my mind immediately jumps to my incredible host family. My family here has been a massive part of my time here and before I leave, I certainly plan on showing them how thankful I am for them. One of the ways which I planned on doing so was to write them a note which they could hold on to. Of course, that letter would be in Spanish— and despite the fact that my Spanish has immensely improved this year, I do feel like I can express myself much better in English. That being said, I wanted to write my host family a letter in English, and despite the fact that they wouldn’t read it, it would be a lot more honest and expressive than that which I will write in Spanish.
To the Galans:
The only proper way to start this letter is to say thank you. To thank each of you for being so kind and loving to me this past year.When I first saw the family description that was listed for the Galan family, I was honestly a little worried. I saw that your family was described as being an elderly couple who lived a quiet life outside of the city. And of course, I was excited to get to meet you guys, but it’s just not necessarily what I was expecting. I grew up with two brothers in a loud house. I was used to sharing a room with my little brother and doing everything together. The prospect of living with a much quieter family would be a new experience for me.
I’m sure that you guys could understand my surprise once you had brought me home and I met all nine of you plus your three dogs. I was ecstatic.
When I first got here, I must have been much more boring than I am now. My Spanish was pretty poor which definitely affected how much fun I was with you guys. I remember sitting through our Sunday night dinners being completely lost. I remember taking car rides with Mary and just nodding to the stories that she told me— although I couldn’t understand exactly what you were saying, I really appreciated you making the effort to try to include me.
And perhaps because of that, I feel like part of this letter should come with an apology. Even now, I still feel sorry that despite my hardest efforts, I simply cannot communicate with you guys in a way where we all completely understand each other perfectly. There will always be little words, pieces of slang, or jokes that I just won’t get. When I’m not paying total attention to you when you’re speaking I struggle to follow what you guys say. And that’s incredibly frustrating, even though I’ve been here for a year, I feel like if I spoke Spanish perfectly, we would all be so much closer. My inability to speak Spanish fluently inevitably comes with a level of insincerity on my part. There were times— especially when I first got here— that my Spanish would not allow me to keep up a conversation with any of you. But rather than sit in silence, you would tell me stories or try to fill the space with some speaking that I wouldn’t really understand.And I would just smile and do my best to play it off as if I understood what you were saying. And of course this was just a lie, but in my position, it’s so much better to at least pretend to know what’s going on rather than just sitting at the dinner table noticeably clueless. Ultimately, I’m sorry for not being able to understand you guys in the ways that I wish I could.
But it’s honestly incredible to me how far we’ve come since September. Time has flown. I was just driving home from Amauta with you guys. We were just in Gualaceo having fights with the bubble toys or in Turi spinning upside down in a massive swing. Now Angie is pregnant and having her baby shower next week, Paúl has his own tattoo studio, and despite my constant jokes that I can’t speak Spanish, I actually speak the language pretty well.
I’m just so grateful for you guys welcoming me as much as you did. You made me into your family when you didn’t have to— it would have been so much easier for you to just brush me aside as being an exchange student who was just staying in the house for a year. But instead of that, you made me into an uncle, a brother, and a son. I wasn’t just the gringo living on the 3rd floor, I was the family that you had living upstairs. Welcoming me into your family like that was a choice that each of you made, and I will forever feel grateful for the acceptance that you extended to me.
It’s impossible to sum up this incredible year into a letter, but the laughter and memories are something that you don’t need a piece of paper to remember. Rather, the letter is to thank you all for the packed lunches, late night drives, and spontaneous empanada trips. Words will never be able to describe the gratefulness that I feel towards you all. Please keep in touch, come visit, and let me know if I can ever do anything for you to repay the love and compassion that you have all shown me.