After thinking about it for two months, I still haven’t decided how to start this post, or how to even write it really. I have yet to figure out how to describe what it’s like to be back in the US, how I’m feeling, and how to sum up what my year in Ecuador was. But I want a definitive end for this blog, so I’ll try and describe it all for you. There’s value in trying, even if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you expected, right?
The last time I wrote I was about to leave Guaranda and didn’t feel quite ready to leave. For the rest of the time that I was in Ecuador, I felt that way. There were no definitive things that I still wanted to do, but I couldn’t help but feel that my time there couldn’t possibly be over. I was a ball of nerves as I flew to Denver, got off the plane, and walked towards where my family was waiting for me. A part of me wanted to turn around and get back on the plane, until I actually saw and hugged everyone. That moment of seeing them for the very first time was like a punch in the gut and my first deep breath in a long time. It meant that my exchange was truly over, but that I was finally back to familiarity.
Reverse culture shock works in the same way that culture sock does: the superficial things hit you first and the deeper, harder to see stuff comes later. For the first couple of weeks, being back was weird for kind of amusing reasons. I found that I could think of some words in Spanish, but not in English. I kept forgetting to throw my toilet paper in the toilet and to put my seatbelt on. I had no sense of time in the evening, because in Ecuador, the sun rises and sets at 6 every day, but not until 8 or 9 during the summer here. I had to break the habit of kissing everyone on the cheek when I arrived or left anywhere. There were just a bunch of little habits that I had become natural to me that I had to consciously stop doing.
The second part of reverse culture shock hit me later and it hit me hard. Coming back to your home culture after being away from it for an extended period of time is one of the strangest and hardest things I’ve ever had to adjust to. Denver and the US are home to me. I naturally know and understand how things work here, how people relate and interact with each other, and where I fit into the whole picture. What I found in coming back was that I no longer knew how to fit comfortably here. Everything as generally the same. I was around the same people, places, and situations, but I no longer felt like I fit exactly right. I didn’t know how to make myself fit into the same space and life that I had before I left. I am very different from who I was a year ago, and I’ve struggled a lot with figuring out how I fit into the relationships that I have with people here. Now that I’ve had time to process everything and settle in, I no longer feel overwhelmed by everything, but it took a month and a half of mental chaos to get here.
I promise there have been upsides amidst the chaos. There have been two best parts about being back, realizing all of the ways Ecuador affected me and appreciating the U.S. in ways I never did before. I’ve learned to trust myself and be self-confident. I’ve learned how to handle making mistakes and to not be afraid to try. I’ve learned to understand what causes the differences between people. I’ve learned to be comfortable in new and confusing situations. I now know all of the stereotypes about the U.S. and have learned to explain the ways they are and aren’t true. I’ve even learned to appreciate all of the wonderful things about this country I call home.
So where does it all leave me? Writing my last blog post from my new dorm room at the University of Wisconsin Madison! I’ve been looking forward to this move basically since the day I got back from Ecuador. There are countless reasons I’ve been dying to be a college student, readiness to be back in the classroom, being at a place where I get to choose the way I spend my time, taking the first ‘official’ step towards being an adult, taking on a new place and the challenges that come with it. I could go on, but what I want to leave you with is that a big part of why I feel so ready for college is Ecuador.
All of the experience I gained there and things I learned have prepared me more for the rest of my life than any other experiences I’ve had. I can’t be thankful enough to myself for having the courage to actually go through with it and for everyone who supported me along the way. My exchange year in Ecuador was terrifying and awe-inspiring, challenging and rewarding, and most importantly it expanded my horizons farther than they ever would have gone had I never lived abroad.