I have something kind of embarrassing to admit. This is the first time I’ve traveled alone abroad. While I´ve taken shorter trips in the U.S. by myself I have never experienced international travel without a trusted travel buddy or group of students to share with.
I´m beginning to feel bien solita.
I will be in Shell, Ecuador for two months while working at a local hospital. For me it is a sort of personal litmus test to embarking on an even longer traveling expedition to even more exotic places (where I can´t even pretend to speak the language).
It has been harder than I thought.
To be sure, there are benefits to traveling alone. It forces me to make the decision between letting my introverted nature take over or stepping even farther outside of my comfort zone and attempting to adapt and accommodate. I will be honest, I am walking this line gingerly, testing the waters, wishing I were braver.
One of the things I have been thinking about for the past few days is trying to find a local family in Shell to stay with. When I spent four months in Morelia, MX I lived with a host family that I fell in love with. I had all of the comforts of home, two parents who could give me advice, home cooked food, freedom to come and go as I pleased, and the added benefit of having to speak Spanish. I was extremely lucky. Some of my classmates were not as lucky and had to change host families for various reasons, but I still believe staying with a host family is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to integrate into a culture.
I have also spent time couch surfing (hosting more than surfing, but I hope to surf in Baños this weekend!) which I have been incredibly impressed with. I have been humbled and inspired by the openness of the people I have met couch surfing and have had some amazing times partaking in this travelers´ community.
Still, there is something about journeying alone that brings a heightened awareness to self. To be an extrañjera means to feel lots of pairs of eyes on you at all times. It means being noticed without being acknowledged. Without a companion or group of people to blend in with, this awareness feels downright uneasy. I haven´t given up on the idea of traveling alone in the future, but I´m also trying to be realistic about the challenges it will bring and the importance of finding fellow sojourners along the way to ease the burden of solitude.
Some of my expectations are changing and shifting. I am wrestling with giving up some of my independence for camaraderie and knowing when to choose between the two. My hope of only spending time with Ecuadorians is slowly fading as my eyes and heart are being opened to seeing the whole world as one big community, gringos included.Google+