Studying Abroad, Reaching a Turning Point, and Finding Appreciation
Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 20:04
I spent last semester, as many of my fellow juniors did, studying abroad. I chose to attend the SIT program focused on Culture and Development in Ecuador. Now here is where I am supposed to start raving about the great time I had, how I loved all of my host families, the courses and the country. But to be entirely honest, I never thought I would make it through the semester.
I changed host families four times, hoping for one that would fit and only finding solace in the silence of my room, trying to muffle the sounds of my crying so my family would not badger me about what was wrong. Fortunately, I am incredibly stubborn and I managed to make it through my program.
The turning point for me was the very last week of my program, during our independent project. For this project, each student picked a town in Ecuador to locate in and study the culture or politics of the area. I chose to stay north of Quito, Ecuador’s second largest city. I volunteered in a health clinic in the mornings and in the afternoons at an orphanage where I studied the region’s high number of abandoned children.
This last week of the project was the most difficult for me. At the beginning of the week, I left the orphanage, exhausted and very frustrated with the kids and how badly they behaved. Seconds after leaving the gate of the orphanage, I saw a puppy walking into the street, and obeying my gut reaction I picked it up and put it safely back on the sidewalk.
I asked the people around that area if anyone knew where it came from, but everyone just said it was a sick stray. Little did I know then, I had just picked up a puppy that would give me a different way of looking at the lives of the abandoned children that I had been playing with for the past three weeks, and a more in-depth outlook on my own experience in Ecuador. I took the puppy to the vet, who provided a little treatment with limited resources.
But this puppy seemed to want nothing more than to be with me; in my arms, lying on my feet, in my lap, by my side, as long as some part of me was touching her. She slept like a baby as long as she knew that I was there. The moment I moved her off of my body, or even just shifted my position, she snapped awake to see what I was doing and if I was leaving. If I did need to leave, she would cry and cry. You would never guess the amount of noise that could come from this small, skinny animal. She slept on my blankets, in my suitcase, on my feet, in my shoes, on my sweatpants – anywhere as long as it had some connection to me.
After only a few days, she died. She was too young and not strong enough to recover her health. All I could do was hope that she had a comfortable final week. This puppy taught me, firsthand, what it means for a child, or an animal, to be abandoned. The seemingly ill-behaved children at the orphanage wanted nothing more than to have a home. This little puppy showed me what it meant to be abandoned and made me realize how lucky I was to have the life and the family that I have.
In only a week, this puppy forced me to look at the world with a completely new light. As I reflect upon this now, I realize how much of a difference this one small experience had on my entire JYA experience, how I view it and share it with the world. My semester in Ecuador was not just 4 months of skipping house to house and crying in my room for nothing. I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life, and though I know I cannot change the lives of thousands of abandoned children, I do fully understand now the difference that one small act of kindness or display of love can have on a person. I cared for a puppy for less than a week, but she and this experience will remain in my heart for years.