Spanish & Service Learning Summer School in Ecuador – Two particularly meaningful moments for me during my Ecuador experience:
I’m hiking through the jungle with the group and a couple of guides, sometimes moving in single file, sometimes in small clusters. I keep breaking away from the procession to inspect almost every plant I see, excited simply by the newness of each one. I’m wearing yellow rain boots that are slightly too big for me, and they’re caked in the ankle-deep mud that covers the path. We pick up the pace, and I start to chat animatedly with person beside me about this and that, enthusing about all we are seeing. All at once, it’s feels as though I’ve stepped through a thick veil of perfume, and I suddenly feel compelled to stop walking. I glance around, and we’re surrounded by tiny white blossoms. They cover the trees on either side of us and fall slowly through the air from the branches above, coating the trail in white. Jasmine, one of the guides tells us. The sweet scent hangs heavily in the humid air, as though I’m cloaked in the fragrance, and I find myself unable to move. I breathe it in deeply, and then breathe again, and then again, and I close my eyes. I hear the voices of the group moving farther and farther away along the trail, but still I linger. I’ll catch up in a moment.
It was the second night staying with my host family, and I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and homesick. I had just arrived back to the house after being out with a few members of my group, and as I opened the front door, I was greeted by the sound of gentle guitar music. I walked in and my host sister Belen greeted me with a warm smile. “Hola, Lin. We’re just playing a bit of music. Dinner is almost ready.” I glanced around the room. My host dad was sitting on the couch, strumming his guitar, my sister’s two little kids were busily playing with their toys, and I could smell something delicious coming from the kitchen. “Thank you, I’d love to.” I said, and my sister motioned for me to take a seat. My dad paused for a moment to tune his guitar, and then he began to play very softly. Belen joined in and started singing along to the melody. Her voice was beautiful, soft, and sweet, and the song she sang was like a lullaby. The window was open, and a slight, warm breeze wafted in and tickled my cheeks and tousled our hair. The sun was setting, turning the sky pink, and casting rosy hues over the room. Both my sister and my dad had their eyes closed, just indulging in the music. I suddenly became acutely aware of the ambience of the moment. Everything felt so purely peaceful. I relaxed into my chair, and closed my eyes too, just listening and enjoying. When the song ended, I looked at my dad and he smiled kindly at me. “We’re a very musical family” he said. “Can you sing?” I told him I could, and he grinned widely. “Belen is a singer too. You should sing something together!” After a few moments we decided on a song we all knew, and the music began again. We all sang and laughed and talked, and the longer we did, the more I felt like they were truly welcoming me into their family. The feeling of homesickness started to melt away, and I was so grateful for them in that moment. They knew what I needed, and they put me at ease. After that I was so much more comfortable, and I only got closer with them. My entire host family became my friends, teachers, guardians, and like a genuine second family. We had so many fantastic experiences together over the course of the month, but I will always remember that night, and the connection that we shared.