Redefining Happiness

Hi there friends! Henry here and boy, do I got something for you. I’ve just been talking with one of our volunteers, Katie Malone, and she has written something to share about her incredible volunteering experience in Ecuador. Keep on reading and I’ll send you more updates soon!

-Henry

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One word that can describe my time as a volunteer in Flor De Bastion is “happiness.” Happiness surrounded the foundation, the homes I visited, and the people I shared moments with every day. As a new volunteer (who knows very little Spanish) coming in to the people of Flor De Bastion’s world, I didn’t know what to expect or how the people I would meet would react to my presence. I was afraid of invading their space in an already established classroom and in my host family’s home. From the moment I entered my Ecuadorian mom’s embrace and heard her warm-hearted “Bienvenido! Mi casa es tu casa,” I knew I was going to be overwhelmed with love and joy.

I began unpacking my things and organizing them on the floor and in the three drawers my host family had set up for me in “my” room. I awkwardly ate lunch with my family (Now that I think about it, awkward can describe a lot of my actions during this month…), staying quiet and timid as if I was a kindergartener on the first day of school. Afterwards, I was introduced to everyone at the Starfish Foundation and all of the students were introduced to me. Following a long day of repetition (Mi nombre es Katie, soy de Ohio, y tengo veinticuatro años) and listening to several names I would struggle to remember, I joined my family for dinner and then needed alone time in my room. Every night, I would write in my journal to document detailed moments, so none were lost. That night, I wrote about everything new- new room, new home, new people, new students, new food, new classroom, new views, new life. I was excited and anxious for what I expected this month would bring.

In retrospect, it is interesting to think back to those moments during my first day, or even my first week, when I had no idea what I was about to learn from this new place and the people in it. My expectations were demolished with higher, more realistic occurrences that came my way during June of 2016. Many places I visited, including Santa Cruz Island in the Galapágos (absolute paradise), local beaches (where merchants are more annoying than seagulls trying to steal your chips), small shops or tiendas (to find elephant pants), Quito (more bus rides than I needed in a lifetime), and Puerto Lopez (where the whales were breeding and the showers were warm) were more beautiful, interesting, or even strange than I could have ever dreamed.

Before traveling to each place, I researched pictures, activities, and restaurants (yes, I know, I am one of those people) to plan ahead and know what sort of things to expect. Even with doing so, I was shocked at the experiences I ran in to. The kind strangers, bumpy tricimoto rides, incredible views, and flavorful ice creams were not included in the fine print of my investigations. Throughout all of these, the most unexpected commonality was the amount of happiness that flooded through these places of Ecuador.

While you may be reading this and thinking about how marvelous and wonderful my trip sounds (as it was), this adventure was still hard for me; leaving my home to live with people I have never met, in a country I have never been to, with people who speak a different language, and having only a slight idea as to how I am going to teach Ecuadorian students anything, wasn’t easy. While these may be obvious concerns, some less apparent that I didn’t even realize I was contemplating, came to me later- will I be accepted as an American, volunteering my time to help others that may not want help? Will I truly make any impact on the students of Starfish, or do I think I am more helpful than I actually am? Are they going to enjoy having me in their environment or am I just a burden, who doesn’t know what is going on half of the time because of the language barrier? I don’t know of a time when I have felt so insecure or vulnerable.

As a person who worries and overanalyzes things, I tried to tell myself I was simply overreacting to this new change in my life and that everything I was self-conscious about was all in my head. But, as those of you who are like me, who dream up imaginary exaggerations only to make yourself feel worse about a situation, know, telling yourself to stop thinking this way is not very helpful. People you surround yourself with and experiences that you challenge yourself to jump, swim, dive, run, or crawl into help heal this brokenness you can’t control inside. Being away from everything you’ve known for all the years you have been alive, even if it is just for one month, is strenuous on the mind and body. The moments when I cried in bed from homesickness (or from stomach sickness) were obviously the worst, but something positive and encouraging always followed. They were simply moments of weakness (and probably a bit of dehydration) that were easily improved by the people of Flor. With the happiness that surrounded me, I was always brought back to reality and knew how thankful I should be for my experiences here and my life back home in Ohio. My tears turned in to laughter and my thoughts turned in to nothing but positive vibes. I am not perfect, so of course there were still moments of negativity, but with the help of my new close American friend, positivity enthusiast, and Spanish to English translator, Mikki, and the people of Flor, I made the best of each situation.

I consider myself to be very lucky to have had the opportunity to have lived, traveled, and worked with the people I did in Ecuador. Without my host family, I wouldn’t have felt the love, support, and comfort I did. Without the people of the Starfish Foundation, I wouldn’t have learned more Spanish and how to work with their students. Additionally, without the students of Flor, I wouldn’t have learned how to work with English language learners and develop more skills as an educator.

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