Student Essay by Arwen Neski

This student essay was submitted by Arwen Neski from Massachusetts.

I never thought it would be possible to change as much as I did in the two weeks I spent in Ecuador. I did change. I am still changing. After seeing the world from a whole new perspective, I see myself in a different perspective. I have a newfound appreciation for people who use solar panels, compost, shop at farmers markets, or who recycle, and I find myself snapping at people who throw recyclables away. Every time I see a stream, or a river, I flashback to standing in front of the biggest waterfall in Ecuador, one that will not be in a few years time. As magical as it was, it breaks my heart to think that even if I return to Ecuador, that waterfall will never be there again.

Standing in front of the falls, I felt so small, but so empowered at the same time. Breathing in the mist, twirling in the rain that was cast off of the various waterfalls we visited, it was absolutely unforgettable. Even writing this now, I can feel the cool of the water as it melts onto my skin.  Tied to this memory there is the feeling of being absolutely content. Even though I am back in the U.S., there is a part of me that will only exist riding through the Amazon on the back of a pickup truck. Wild and free at the same time, just like a waterfall.

Not only did I learn about sustainability, hydropower, and oil drilling, I learned about myself. Minutes after arriving at our Hostel in Quito, I found myself surrounded by people exactly like me. People who wanted to learn about sustainability, people as excited to be there as I was, people who wanted to change the world! People who just happened to be cuddled on a big couch watching Harry Potter.

I found myself trekking through the Amazon, decked out in our amazing puddle jumpers and our Yachana ponchos. I was living on the edge. Everything was so spontaneous. One minute I was crawling through a cave to get to the top of a waterfall, and the next I was leading a conga line in the middle of the street! At one point I had a black tarantula ON MY FACE. Coming from a person who screams at tiny spiders in the shower, that was a very large step forward.

The Kichwa people knew all about the different trees and creatures, they were so connected to the environment they were living in. I was so inspired by their knowledge that I spent hours in my backyard identifying different plants and trees. One of most incredible things I was able to experience while in Ecuador was attending a Yachana graduation. It was such an honor to be able to spend that powerful moment with those incredible teenagers.

The other participants became my second family. We reeked of our days in the amazon (a strange musty mixture of cilantro, b.o., and bug spray), but we all stunk together. Whether it was jumping off of large rocks, pushing each other off of white water rafts, or playing VERY aggressive games of jungle fever, we always had a fantastic time.

We became very close with our trip leaders too. Tim was so wise and genuinely awesome, although I will never be able to forget his dancing on the party bus, as hard as I might try. And then there was Jeff, whose passion about sustainability was so inspiring. Karen was the universal mom. She was so sweet and caring, and her love of “Maracuya” is something I will never forget.

The mark of the amazon has been branded onto my heart. Although my various alpaca accessories will eventually get lost or ripped or thrown away, I know that I have new forever friends and forever memories. From the day I touched back down in New York, to the day I will return to the Amazon, there is and will be a magnet drawing me back.

Ecuador changed me. Looking back on a strange girl wandering around a summer activities fair, I am a stronger person now. Now I am a girl with a passion to spread all that I have learned, and a passion to continue learning. I will never EVER forget all that Sustainable Summer has taught me, and I hope that I will be able to spread my knowledge to others as well.