I thought the initial bus ride from my study to service placement a few weeks ago was simultaneously the longest and shortest bus ride of my life. After finally getting comfortable with a schedule, host family, and fellow SSTers in the capital city, you are (what feels like abruptly) put on a bus and shipped to a new town. With service comes a new host family, new routine, new job, new surroundings, new everything! During my 2.5-hour ride to my service city, I was filled with so much excitement but also fear for what was coming next. I would describe myself as a person who doesn’t necessarily love to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Ironically, I would describe SST as three straight months of being pushed outside of your comfort zone! That being said, looking ahead to my service placement I knew it would be a challenging but fulfilling experience.
When I arrived in service town I was welcomed by a beautiful family with open arms. Despite all of the uncomfortable elements of the situation, I immediately felt accepted as a second daughter. My host mom asked me what I like to do for fun the day after my arrival. I explained how I love to bake, especially for other people. She immediately piped up and said, “Why don’t you make something for us right now?” Although a sweet gesture, I was thrown into a panic and my head started spinning with questions – how do I bake in a place with no measuring cups and different ingredients? I’m not that good at baking! I looked up “easiest chocolate chip cookie recipe” and soon after my host mom went to the store to buy some final ingredients. I was preparing to do something I love that usually helps me relax, yet at the same time, I was freaking out internally.
After my mom returned, I started guessing measurements and throwing ingredients together. I had the help of my five-year-old host sister who was a great sous chef, but I think she really just wanted to eat the chocolate chips. We laughed, listened to Taylor Swift (after my mom requested we listen to my favorite artist), and made jokes with each other. In the end, we made some mediocre chocolate chip cookies that definitely had too much flour in them but received rave reviews from my host family. Thankful for the effort my family put in to help me feel more comfortable, I also walked away with a sweet memory from my first few days in a new home and a feeling of accomplishment.
In the moment, I saw this experience as a funny little story about baking to laugh about later. Looking back now, I think it was one of the most meaningful moments of SST for me that really captures some of the feelings I’ve been having about my overall experience. Being away from home can bring plenty of challenges and I’ve experienced what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming amount of cultural differences, but I can’t put into words the immense amount of care and love I have felt here in Ecuador. This spectrum spans from my host families who welcomed me into their homes to random Ecuadorians walking down the street!
During one of the most uncomfortable weekends of SST for me which was full of transitions, my new host family encouraged me to do something I love to help me feel more at ease. Even though this suggestion put me into a state of panic at the time, looking back now I am able to laugh at how stressed I was, appreciate my family’s care, and smile at the memory. I feel so lucky to have met and gotten to know so many genuinely kind and thoughtful people during my time in Ecuador. Leaving in a few short weeks, I know the relationships I am developing here will stay with me more than anything else I have experienced.