Four months ago, John Carroll students pulled up to a gated retreat house that was consumed by the darkness of the sky and the claustrophobic buildings of Arbolito, Ecuador.
It was nothing like the pictures; no roaming hills, seldom bright colors, and city people starring at the white van full of visitors who had no idea what they were getting themselves into.
It was the end of the rainy season, and the humidity engulfed everything. Military showers didn’t quite cut it once students stepped out of the bathroom and back into the human fish bowl.
It was as if our bodies were stripped of comfort and not promised it back.
The morning after we arrived, we walked outside and looked around in daylight for the first time. The streets were littered with trash and decaying dogs, covered with fleas and begging for food. Our guide gave us a list of rules: stay together, don’t touch the animals, pay attention to your surroundings, be on time…the list went on.
Each day, there was an itinerary, yet the students had to live moment by moment without knowing what was coming next. This was arguably one of the most challenging parts for group members; the unknown is a scary thing, and as a leader I had to communicate with my equivalent in order to keep the group focused.
I can imagine what the students felt when we wouldn’t tell them what the plan was for the next day. In fact, I did know what they felt, for it was me who was in that same position in Honduras just two years earlier.
Over the course of the preparation process and during our trip, we stressed the importance of making promises and following through with them. We did this in light of the “because I said I would” campaign, hoping it would contribute greatly to our growth abroad.
“Because I said I would” is a social movement and nonprofit. Their mission is to be dedicated for the “betterment of humanity.” The community created a “promise card” in order to hold people accountable for their commitments in establishing peace and building happiness. This movement stresses to make and keep promises to yourself, your family and your community.
Each of the group members filled out a promise card at the beginning of the preparation process and kept it in mind throughout the entirety of the trip. It became a reminder of what each of us had to work on.
My card read, “I will be open to not knowing…because I said I would.”
For a long time I struggled with fear of the future. I was uncomfortable with the idea of not knowing what was going to happen next. Where am I going to go post-graduation? Who will I spend my life with? Will I make it home to see my brother’s last high school baseball game?
I put a lot on my plate without knowing if I could actually handle it all, and that was difficult for me when it came to finding balance.
Since I have promised myself to welcome the future I have developed into a more levelheaded individual.
What I decided to do for myself allowed me to help other students stay present. The Ecuador Immersion group from last May was touched by individuals with Hansen’s Disease, community members living under tin roofs, children who lack resources for education, and many more valuable individuals with open hearts. We thank them for allowing us to live simply by their sides, and for embracing our discomforts with warm lentels and fresh, nonprocessed pineapple.
Sometimes fear is exchangeable with momentum. Use it, and allow yourself to become the best possible version of you.