This guest blog post is brought to OSSO by recent Ecuador volunteer, Karen.
In August of 2015, I embarked upon the most incredible, life-changing experience I would ever have. Little did I know, my dreams would quickly change from traveling for personal pleasure to traveling to make a difference.
I left my house late in the afternoon and headed to the Denver airport. I knew I was supposed to be enthusiastic for the two-week trip to Cuenca, but more than anything I just wanted to go on a dream vacation to Europe. When I was young child, my time was dedicated to imagining myself under the Eiffel Tower or touring a castle in Switzerland. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t entirely dreading my trip to Ecuador – I looked forward to experiencing new things, even if wasn’t exactly how I pictured my first trip abroad
When I first agreed to go to Ecuador, I had the expectation that everything would be picture-perfect. I would go down to a South American country and work in orphanages, making the world a better place. I soon found out that it wasn’t anything I had dreamed it to be or anything I could’ve been prepared for. It was a LOT of hard work. It was soothing screaming children, changing diapers, feeding lunch to the disabled, and scrubbing bathroom floors. It was anything but easy.
Oftentimes, as I reflect back on my trip, I have come to the realization that my best memories aren’t zip lining, shopping, or hanging out at the beach. Those things were great and a ton of fun at the time; however, my most precious memories and moments were because of the relationships I built. The quiet moment when we laid down the toddlers for their mid-day nap. Watching the smile build upon everyone’s faces when the volunteers showed up for the day. Having meaningful conversations with volunteers who demonstrated true Christlike love through their selfless attitudes.
What I have taken away from this experience now is worth more than any price tag. I realize now that the fantasy I had in my head as a child of exploring Europe doesn’t have to be my reality as an adult. It’s okay to try new things, go new places, and do something completely crazy like volunteering with orphans in Ecuador.
Maybe my first international experience wasn’t what I originally wanted, but now it is what defines me. So, when people ask me about when I traveled to Ecuador, I say, “Yeah, it wasn’t anything I dreamed it would be; it was so much more.”