During my last few months in Ecuador, really the only thing that I wanted was to be home. In fact, I think that my classes learned more about Michigan than they did about English grammar during that last cycle. They could all tell me where the Great Lakes were, what the Motor City is, and what the best collegiate football and basketball team is. The more I dropped the words “Michigan State University”, “Craft Beer” and “Lake Michigan”, the closer I felt to home. I was mentally soaking up imaginary rays on Sleeping Bear national lakeshore and indulging in a few chocolate covered cherries while battling the smog and traffic of Quito. By that point in my journey, I had seen all that I had come to see, done all that I had hoped to do, and accomplished far more than I had aspired to. I had climbed volcanoes, hiked to Machu Picchu, and played with sea lions in the Galapagos. I had also been robbed, ripped off, and frustrated beyond reason. In short, it was time to come home.
I happily packed my bags, said a few goodbyes, and hopped on a plane, QUI→ ATL → DTW. The trip from Detroit brought me through sunshine, farm fields, and Starbucks, and I was home. Suddenly, I was catapulted from a life of foreign adventures into a new life of familiar adventures. Running around from the moment my feet touched the ground, I hosted a bachelorette party, a rehearsal dinner, and attended a wedding. I packed my bags and headed to Northern Michigan to enjoy the scenery and company of my family and boyfriend. I took the LSAT, went to concerts and baseball games.
And then I came home. Friends went back to work, all of the events that I had anticipated came to a close, and I was left to figure out to what to do.
Our culture is so focused on looking forward. What’s next? Where will you be in three years? Five years? Ten years? We have life plans by the time we graduate high school, and if for some reason your entire existence isn’t decided at that time, you must suffer the humiliating question of ‘what’s next’ and answer with a big fat ‘I DON’T KNOW!’. Time moves so fast that you have to apply for even simple jobs far in advance. You have to know what type of school you want to pursue about two years in advance in order to study, take the exam, and apply. And worst of all, you are expected to have this all figured out! This is exactly what led me to Ecuador last year when I turned my “I don’t know” into an adventure. But now what?
I have always appreciated this linear manner in which we approach life. I like having a plan. I like knowing what I will be doing in three years, five years, ten years. Straying from that plan is scary. Yet, I found myself hanging somewhere in that obscure area of uncertainty. Having taken that five year plan and thrown it in the trash in favor of this journey of self discovery, I was overwhelmed. Home from my adventure, and back into this real world of high expectations, what was next?
The more I researched jobs, the more I found myself completely unqualified for most work. I applied and waited for phone calls that never came. Ultimately I began to apply for jobs in retail or in restaurants. With a college degree, I interviewed at Starbucks and never heard back. I was devastated and embarrassed. This is the intimidating job market that all young people are thrown into. Somewhere between Cotopaxi and Tungurahua I had grown out of this Mid-Michigan small town, and my feet grew itchy once again. But home was what I wanted, wasn’t it?
Being back has given me time to reflect on my experience abroad, that one that I had wanted to escape so desperately at times. It was the best thing in the world. My job taught me confidence, compassion and humor. Living in a foreign country exposed me to a different way of life. Sure, it was inefficient, slow, and frustrating. But it was also beautiful. I made great friends, climbed mountains and learned Spanish. It gave me a great appreciation for the freedom that we have in the United States, the beauty of my home in Michigan, and the love of my caring boyfriend. In Ecuador, there was no planning beyond a few days in advance, which reduced me from a type AAA personality to a B+. It was a time to let my hair down, get dirty, and throw the playbook out the window. For the first time in my life I was completely on my own, completely vulnerable, and completely okay with that.
As I write I am surrounded by all of my favorite things and under the loving embrace of my favorite people. Yet, I find myself daydreaming about those smoggy, loud streets of Quito, the purpose that I found there, and the adventures that I had. So, here’s to answering “what’s next” with a journey of a lifetime, and patience for a difficult transition home.
Ama la vida.