Happy Belated Thanksgiving from Ecuador! I think that spending my first one away from home and family and in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday was one of the greatest lessons in thanksgiving that I have ever had. I spent the majority of the day meditating on the things that I am thankful for because I didn’t have the normal hustle and bustle of family activities to be a part of like usual.
I realized that all the things I was thinking about came back to this one all-encompassing thing that I am thankful for more than anything: home. I’ve spent a lot of time and many conversations –in English and Spanish – this semester talking about my home. I live at Wofford College in a dorm for the majority of the year but when I am not there I live with my mom in Irmo, South Carolina. The weather at home is pretty good with hot summers and cool winters, as they should be in my opinion. This is the general description that I would always give to people when they asked where my home is and what it is like. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving night that I thought about it deeply and realized that home is so much more than location and weather.
It just so happens that the hostel where I am staying this month for my Independent Study Project in Vilcabamba is owned by an American couple from Washington state. They decided to have a Thanksgiving feast for their guests and the American expats living in the area. All of the tables of the hostel’s dining area were pulled together in a long line and we all sat around it to feast together. I sat across from a young Ecuadorian couple and beside a Swiss-American guy, Jasper, who was my age. My conversation went back and forth between Spanish and English as I explained to the Ecuadorians what this holiday looks like for Americans over in the States and asked questions about what Thanksgiving looks like for this guy of mixed heritage who has spent the majority of his life living in Switzerland with one US American parent. It was fascinating dinner conversation – definitely my most unique Thanksgiving discourse – between so many people of different cultural backgrounds. I asked Jasper where he considers his home to be, as he has lived in both the US and Switzerland, and it took him a moment of hesitation to give me an answer. He said most genuinely “home is where the heart is.” He didn’t answer me with a particular place, which I thought was most interesting, but rather with anecdotes from both Switzerland and the US that all involved the people he loves most, his family. This conversation was impactful for me as I realized that more of what home really is to me is much of the same.
What makes home, home, is the people who are there, without a doubt. My house in Irmo, South Carolina is home because my mom is always there when I arrive. She is the person who loves me more than anyone else on this planet and it is her love and sweet hugs that keep me coming back. What makes Irmo my hometown is the fact that most of the rest of my family and many friends live in or around there and in a matter of minutes I can be where they are to pass time conversing, or just being together. Wofford College is another home because my best friends in the world live there with me, as do my fantastic teachers and life mentors. Home for me doesn’t only exist in the United States, however. I found a home back on the farm in Mindo, with my host family in Quito and among many of the other students in my program. I even found a home in the dining room of the hostel with Jasper by the end of the evening. Home is in those places where there are people that you enjoy and love and where you just feel comfortable.
I believe that this semester in Ecuador has extended my capacity to feel at home as my people skills and my ability to love people who are really different from me have improved a lot. I feel most comfortable and at home in the south in the US where people are like me but I see so much growth in myself for the fact that I am also able to find home in other countries around the world where people are not like me. My heart is more open to loving people, no matter who they are, and as a result I am more able to feel at home wherever I go.
So, this Thanksgiving I am most thankful for home, those special places where there are people with pieces of my heart, and I am thankful to Wofford for giving me this opportunity to learn such a meaningful truth about people and life.