Christina Joyce’s Gap Year in Ecuador

Joyce+in+Quito%2C+with+traditional+Ecuadorian+dancers+and+her+younger+host+brother+and+sister+from+her+host+family+there.

Joyce in Quito, with traditional Ecuadorian dancers and her younger host brother and sister from her host family there.

 

by Alison Eadie

As students decide what path they will take after graduation, for some a four year college doesn’t feel right just yet. Competitive colleges are encouraging students to take a gap year for real life experiences that will add perspective to the classroom and help students discover what they are really capable of.

Last year, Christina Joyce decided to venture to rural Ecuador after she graduated. She took a gap year and lived in Ecuador for 4 months with a program called Global Citizen Year.

Joyce felt the time was right to travel. She really wanted to expand her horizons and take time to discover what she might be passionate about in college. An increasing number of students are taking interest in gap year programs, but are they prepared for what this may entail? Joyce believes they should be prepared to experience a lot of culture shock, but they also learn a lot about themselves throughout the process.

Global Citizen Fellows first have training in San Francisco, where they brush up on the native language of the country they will stay in, set goals, and prepare themselves to acclimate to a new culture. Joyce then spent September in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where she explored the city with other students in the program.

In October, Joyce left the comfort of her American friends and the amenities of Quito to go to her permanent home stay in Mancheno, a rural town in the region of Mt. Chimborazo. She stayed with an indigenous family made up of her host mother and father, Juana and Jose, two older brothers Diego and Dario, and a younger sister, Adela. Joyce bonded in particular with her host mom, whom she confided in the first week when culture shock left her feeling isolated and scared.

“I felt homesick so much, but never the kind of homesick where I actually wanted to go home. It was just like, little things that you really start to miss over time…I think it was almost a constant thing, like I miss this about home, but I appreciate this about Ecuador.”

Soon, Joyce began to enjoy the simplicity of life in Ecuador. “There’s a lot of really simple things I would learn to appreciate, like when I would take the cows down to the river with my mom to drink and just being in the middle of this beautiful mountain landscape and the simplicity of it all. Feeling the happiness in everyone around you, that was just beautiful.”

Even though she was about 3,000 miles from her family back in Hudson, Joyce felt very much a part of her host family, and she also loved spending time with the 10 other Global Citizen Year fellows living in the region of Chimborazo, whom she described as a “constant support system,” like nothing she’d ever felt before. They got together for American holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving to celebrate and share their experiences.

Joyce said she felt the most at home when her host aunt, Blanca, invited her to a family birthday party for her host cousin. Aunt Blanca asked what she wanted to make from America, and Joyce chose pizza.

“We went into Rio Bamba, the city that I lived closest to, and we picked out all the ingredients, and then we went back to the house, and one of my good friends Amanda came over, who was in the program with me, and together we all made 15 pizzas for this party,” Joyce said.

All the relatives came from all over Ecuador, exemplifying how important family is in Ecuadorian culture. “I felt like I was such a part of that family,  and I remember tearing up. I was thinking about  my family and how much I missed them, but then it was just this feeling of being such a part of their family and they were so accepting, and it was just laughter and it was the best feeling in the world.”

Taking a gap year in Ecuador “taught me that no matter where you are, what matters most is the relationships that you have and the people that you’re surrounded by,” Joyce says.

Joyce’s advice to other students who may take a gap year and travel to another country? “You have to listen more than anything…it’s more important to go into a place and listen than to go into a place with an idea that you already have in your mind.”

This fall, Joyce will attend Clark University to study International Development and Social Change.

To read an article about another Hudson High graduate who also went to Ecuador with Global Citizen year, Jackie Brown, see https://www.bigredhawks.com/2012/11/29/alumna-jackie-browns-new-life-in-ecuador/.

If you may be interested in one of Global Citizen Year’s gap year programs in Ecuador, Senegal, or Brazil, visit their website at www.globalcitizenyear.org. The final date to send in your application is May 8.