I have chosen a theme for my semester away: Brave.
Sometimes I feel like people don't understand this theme, at least not right away. 2/3 of Macalester students study abroad, most for a full semester. And many go on trips all the time like it isn't a big deal- because it isn't, to them. They can no more truly appreciate the fact that international travel is special than I can truly appreciate that going to college or having lots of relatively nice clothes is special. It has always been there. It is taken for granted. And, in the case of travel, it is familiar and therefore no longer scary. A large number of my (mostly white, mostly male) friends have looked at me with surprise when I talk about my fears and my experience. "You've never been abroad before?" they infer. Well, sort of...
I have been out of the country once, at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, which really doesn't even count. (Though I'm lucky to have taken the trip, a resort is like the U.S. but warmer.) I have never packed a suitcase for more than two weeks away from home. (I can drive to college in 30 minutes from where I live.) I was always an overly cautious child, and I have an anxiety disorder, so believe me when I say that living abroad for a semester, by myself, with two new families, in an entirely new country, that contains an entirely new language and multiple entirely new cultures is the most terrifying/bravest thing I have ever done.
When I was little, I had such bad separation anxiety I couldn't go to traditional preschool. Kindergarten, then first grade, then a sleepover, then camp, then college were all victories. Four months is my biggest challenge yet. I also have a long-standing fear of the unknown, and this trip is quite literally 100% unknown. Well, maybe 95%. I will find out about my host family a week before I leave, if I'm lucky. My second host family and my rural region and internship placement will remain unknown until I am in Ecuador. Every part of this trip will be a test. Probably a fun, comedic, lifelong-lesson-resulting test, but a test nonetheless. I'm scared, but I want to do it. So I am going to.
I am going to do this. I am going to problem solve in a foreign language, learn about Ecuadorian public health from experience, make new friends, have bad days and good days, and heck, I am going to see mountains for the first time ever! While I live in them! Above all, I am going to do a thing I never dreamed I could do.
I can distinctly remember pointing to Quito on our interactive globe as a child (a favorite toy when we were younger). It was the only marked city that fell directly on the equator. I wondered if it was really hot there, and how people lived there (Andes mountains, little Mariah- super high elevation). It was a place I never even dreamed of going. It didn't feel like even a whisper of a possibility.
Well, I'm going. And maybe it sounds to the highly global community of Macalester like I'm making too big a deal out of this. Maybe I'm too worried and too excited and too everything. (Except too grateful, of course.) Maybe the idea of getting on a plane by yourself and going to the equator doesn't sound terrifying. Maybe living with a host family isn't the number one thing you have dreamed about forever regarding international travel. Maybe you're getting ready to study abroad and you are cool as a cucumber. (HOW?) Maybe you just don't talk/write as much as I do. (Probably.) That's chill. But I am terrified and so excited and fully aware that this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime deal and I can't shut up about it.
Am I making too big a deal out of this? Good. That's what this is. A big deal.