I fell in love on the equator.
The ending of my first semester at university was a whirlwind – a complete and total blur. As a global studies major, I’ve always been extremely interested in different languages and cultures. Because of this, I found myself spending a vast portion of my leisure time with foreign exchange students during my first semester here. Incredible memories and hilarious stories manifested themselves in the shape of a Belgian girl, an Irish boy, and a strange but wonderful character from Denmark. These people became my people, and before I knew it – the time had come to let them go.
Being someone who comes from a small town where no one ever leaves, I had zero clue how to handle goodbyes. I’d never had to before. I left the airport on that Saturday afternoon with tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart. I felt lost and alone. But I wasn’t without hope.
When I came home evening, still flipping through old photos and videos, I remembered something huge. Something that I’d pushed to the back of my mind while I was dealing with the tremendous sadness surrounding my friends’ departures.
Only 12 days separated me from a trip to Quito, Ecuador for a two week school course. I’d be staying with a host family, attending lectures, and seeing South America for the first time ever.
Upon my arrival in Ecuador, I was nervous. I was a redheaded, pale nineteen year old who’d never left the country without her parents. I knew very little about the customs of this new place or how to be on my own somewhere completely foreign to me. I cried in my bedroom on my second night. I was homesick, anxious, and bordering altitude sick.
I knew in that moment that I had a decision to make. I could be scared and timid about the experience (and the lack of hot water in my house) or I could dive in head first and for the first time in my life, I could be truly fearless.
I chose the second option, and I’d never been so sure.
We spent New Year’s Eve at a discoteca (nightclub) in downtown Quito. I danced, laughed, and smiled for the first time since I’d said goodbye to my friends. I felt the pieces of my broken heart coming back together as I formed new friendships over the following two weeks. I couldn’t count on both of my hands the amount of first time experiences that I got to enjoy in Ecuador.
For the first time in my life, I swam in a waterfall. I didn’t have my swimsuit with me, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. The water was freezing but I’d never felt so alive.
Ah, but of course, not all of my ‘firsts’ were this pretty. I took charge of my group and got us all stranded at a bus stop miles from our homes. I swear I didn’t stop hearing ‘I told you so’ until we were landed in Atlanta, Georgia following our departure from Quito. This wasn’t the only time I would find myself lost either.
So, I fell in love in Ecuador, and it wasn’t with a boy. I fell in love with travel.
I fell in love with laughing entirely too hard on an airport floor from sleep deprivation. I fell in love with the feeling of the wind in my hair while I zipped over the Mindo Cloud Rainforest. I fell in love with the beautiful artwork on the walls of the Guayasamin museum. I fell in love with totally butchered Spanish pick-up lines, ibuprofen and coffee, frustrating waits, and breathtaking views. The highs and the lows of my trip were all so crucial to the person that I became walking out of it all. I would never be the same and every experience shaped this.
For the first time in my life, I fell in love with something that could never be taken away from me. And I would do it all over again.
I now trust that the universe really does know what it’s doing. When one door closes, a thousand open and when a person exits of our lives, it only makes room for more.