Thin Air and Deep Breaths

Have you ever prepared for something so long that you forgot what it was like to breath? Well, 9,500 feet up in the Ecuadorian Andes, I am not quite sure I have gotten my first deep breath, but I can guarantee that the thin air is no obstacle for finding peace.

The view of Quito from the suburb of Tababela

For three months, I have scheduled vaccinations, obtained malaria prophylaxis, packed, questioned myself, and anxiously analyzed the progression of Covid-19 variants.

And now I am here.

These past three days, I have felt nothing but relief. Nestled amongst these peaks, I am finally in the place where I will live for the next four months.

Traveling during Covid-19 is stressful, but it is such a privilege.  

Nestled amongst these peaks, I am finally in the place where I will live for the next four months.

The beautiful grounds at Airport Garden Hostel in Tababela

However, I am not here to be comfortable. I am here to grow, to speak Spanish, and to learn. Our stay with a host family has unfortunately been cancelled but hostel life has been surprisingly beautiful and relaxing. We will soon move once again, and I am excited for our semester to keep us on our toes as we change where we are staying and leave on excursions.

Without the host family component, immersing into the culture is not as easy, but so far, some courage to speak to strangers and the effort to explore new places has led to incredible experiences. I have seen a Virgin Mary that draws a procession of Ecuadorian Catholics each year. I have been fortunate enough to meet the director of a school and receive a tour. More than anything, I have met generous, friendly people and I cannot wait for what happens next.

Reconnecting to my culture through Spanish

Engaging with my Latinx culture has been a perennial challenge for me. For the longest time, I assumed that being Puerto Rican was a burden, or somehow inherently made me less capable. With this assumption, I lost my desire to speak Spanish and as a third generation Puerto Rican, for most of my life I only knew simple commands (and a couple of curse words, but you would never catch me using those around the house).

For the longest time, I assumed that being Puerto Rican was a burden, or made me inherently less capable.

Posing for a photo in Rincon, PR in June 2021

I say all of this because the passion for study abroad came to me when I finally realized the beauty of my own culture and identity through the National Hispanic Institute. Through exploring my own culture, I grew excited to learn about other peoples. In this way, my schooling for the past five years in Spanish has led to this moment. It is now that I embark on a journey which one quarter of my twenty-year life has built to.

the passion for study abroad came to me when I finally realized the beauty of my own culture and identity

My friends and I in Tampa during a National Hispanic Institute Program Excursion in June 2018

Surprisingly, I do not feel so much pressure. Wofford has helped me to find opportunity after opportunity to study abroad, whether in Mexico or Ireland, and I could not feel more prepared for my three months away.

Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland in July 2021

Looking forward, I fully believe the rest of this year will change my life, with the sole requirement that I be present. I am awfully scared of the changes Covid-19 will make to my trip. I am worried that my peers and I may not get along. I am not sure how friendly Ecuadorian cuisine will be to my vegetarian diet. But the chance to travel is such a privilege, especially in 2021 and I am so excited to get going. Next stop… Quito, Ecuador!