Usually, I spend my spring breaks catching up on sleep and studying for the MCAT. Fortunately for me, Spring Break 2014 was different. I had decided to spend my week in Ecuador on a health brigade with Shoulder to Shoulder. I thought I had a plethora of time to prepare, but I didn’t! Before I knew it, it was the night before my flight and I had just begun to pack my bags. The morning came too soon, but I was ready!
When I arrived at the airport, I could not help but notice families and couples hugging and kissing each other goodbye; meanwhile, I paid my cab fare and entered the airport … alone. Part of me preferred being alone – I did not have to experience any sappy goodbyes with a final look back accompanied with a teary-eyed wave. But still, it would have been nice to have a little send-off! I was excited, but very nervous.
Once I reached Ecuador, my fears subsided (or so I thought) as I took in my new environment. I was captivated, awe-struck and amazed. The landscape was magnificent. I saw trees and plants that I had never seen before. Even their fields (from my view on the plane) seemed to be quite different from anything else I had ever seen before. I especially loved the mountains though!
I caught a cab and began to talk to the driver about Ecuadorian culture, where I was from, and the brigade that I was participating in. As he was telling me more about his culture, my eyes caught sight of the beautiful plant life that was cascading down the side of the mountain. I was mesmerized! As the cab driver continued to zip down the highway, I wondered what experiences were waiting for me.
Now, I will take a moment here to clearly explain how unadventurous I truly am! The experiences I wondered about were directly related to the experiences I would have during work hours with the brigade. Unadventurous, I know! The coordinator explained to us all the many activities we had the option of participating in. I made a mental note of each one, however, I crossed each one off as well. For instance, there was NO WAY I was going zip-lining in Mindo, Ecuador – or anywhere else for that matter. Visiting a chocolate factory and a butterfly farm both seemed to be far more appealing than zipping between mountains on a cable!
Finally, the day of zip-lining arrived. I was still sure that I would not participate. My friends, however, were not going to allow that to happen. They coerced me to go, reminding me that this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to go zip lining in Ecuador. Although I was as nervous as ever, I knew that they were right. At that moment, I decided to overcome my fears and trek through the mountains, only to go plunging into the great abyss!!
Okay … maybe it wasn’t quite as dramatic, but that is truly how I felt my experience would be!
We stood through the instructional session with our zip gear on. I thought my heart would leap out of my chest or that I would pass out! I could not, for the life of me, understand what I was doing there. All I could think about is how people like me don’t do things like what I was standing in line to do – zip line! But before I could talk myself out of (what I considered) insanity, my friends were dragging me to the front of the line. We climbed the stairs that lead to nowhere. There was simply a platform for us to glide off of. I wanted to turn around, but it was too late. I was already half-way up the stairs and felt that it would be better to jump into the unknown than to walk back, past everyone, defeated.
Aliya was the first of my group of friends to speed down the cable. For as long as we could see her, she screamed. Rest assured, this only heightened my anxiety! I was next. Maybe I could still turn back?
I took a deep breath and allowed the worker to secure me onto the cable cord. I did not want to move, my legs were like Jello-O. Next thing I know, I am flying through the air. The scene was not as graceful as I would have liked to remember it, especially with all the screaming … But after a few heart pounding moments, I realized that this whole zip lining thing wasn’t so bad after all! The view was breathtaking. I took in the scenery and smiled to myself. I was doing it, I was zip lining, AND I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I relaxed as my beginner’s jitters melted away. I had to admit, I was so glad my friends convinced me to participate!
I learned to take full advantage of opportunities that are presented to me, instead of allowing fear to inhibit me from even trying to grab hold of them. I also learned that fears usually aren’t all that scary in the end. I traveled, I served, I learned, I experienced, I lived. I will always be gratefully for the many lessons I learned abroad and for the opportunity I had to zip my fears away!
Photo by Hillary McLean
Written by: Hillary McLean
Hillary is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador. She participated in a Service Abroad program with Shoulder to Shoulder Global. She is studying Dietetics, and she is pre-med.