Last night I had an interesting dream.  I was packing up my suitcases.   While I was packing I kept remembering more and more stuff that I needed to bring with me and more and more stuff just kept appearing out of nowhere that I needed to pack.   I was running out of space and concerned that I would have to leave something behind.

Today marks the 4 months in Ecuador and 1 week from departure.  This has been one of the most exciting, stressful, fun, rewarding, and great learning experiences.  August was such a slow month here.  Although I still loved some of the differences were hard to get used to.  The kiss on the cheek from strangers with hello and goodbye was especially odd.   Besides that I found that it was very easy for me to see “flaws” in Ecuador as opposed to positives.  For example a lack of organization, efficiency, infrastructure, safety, customer service, equality, and good drivers.   But later I reflected on it and wondered why it was so easy to see problems right away and not?

The reality is that there are differences in every culture/country and just because something is different doesn’t make it better or worse.  This experience has made me appreciate my country so much more (the things listed above) but also made me realize that there are so many ways that it could be improved and be more like Ecuador.   For example, Americans are more or less focused solely on themselves, Ecuadorians are very welcoming and willing to go out of their way to help their friends and family and strangers in many cases. After my August adjustment period I was a lot less affected by the differences and accepted things for what they were.

After the first long month the rest passed so quickly and it is so odd now to realize that August was so long ago.   So many things have happened I have learned and gained so much in the process.  I was able to frequently travel and see some of the most beautiful places in the world. This experience has given me so many firsts: my first time to a foreign country, my first time living with another family, my first time seeing the ocean!, my first time being somewhere where they don’t speak my native language and so many more.

Although Ecuador alone has been amazing what truly made my experience so wonderful was the people that I was surrounded by.  First is my host family. Although sometimes my host mother can get on my nerves she has been so caring all the way and has showed me the city of Quito (in addition she probably lives in the best neighborhood in the city).  The rest of my host family can be loud especially when the daycare and extended family come over but they are all so kind and actually fun to be around.  Second are my professors.  Many of which I did not appreciate at the beginning ended up being very valuable to learning about Ecuador and adding to my experience (except Geology, its awful).

Third and most importantly that added to my experience were the wonderful friends that I have made here in Ecuador.   For the most part they are all gringos but I feel so blessed to have met all of them.  Everyone (for the most part) has a great attitude about everything and is excited to be here. They have made my experience so much better than I could have imagined.  When I leave I am going to miss all of my friends here so much. When I go back home and decide to travel again I know I have so many friends to visit on the East and West Coasts, the Northeast, the South, and even Sweden.

To go back to my dream, I entered what suitcase meant in the dream journal and nothing came up.  My theories are that it means I need to start packing now because I’m a procrastinator, it could mean that I have so much to do (pack) before I leave because I will regret it later, or that I need to remember things and/or not to forget things.   Although I am a procrastinator I don’t actually have a lot of stuff and I have plenty of space in my suitcases to put what I have so I am ruling option one out.    The second option is a possibility.  Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”  I do regret more what I did not do than what I did do (well except for the excessive amount of time I spent on Facebook) but in general I took full advantage of all the opportunities sent my way which was my main goal on my letter to self at study abroad orientation.  So maybe not option two.

I think the dream is about my third theory. I have gained so many things out of this experience and don’t want to leave it behind.  It is sad to be leaving Ecuador but I am ready to head back to the single digit weather in Wausau, Wisconsin.  Although I may never go back to Ecuador again what I will take home with me are the things I’ve learned about this culture, my culture, and myself, memories of all the fantastic places I’ve visited and experiences that I have had, and although I can’t see them in Wisconsin I will remain in contact with all the people I have met and the friends I have made.   I feel so blessed to have had this experience but it is going to be sad to leave next Thursday.

Gwen Hasenberg is studying abroad at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Quito, Ecuador.