Photo By: Clara Comparan

Imagine standing on the side of a mountain, looking out into a green, grassy blanket. The only things interrupting the landscape are quaint, clay-built homes and an occasional cow or goat.

I had the opportunity this summer to travel to Ecuador with a group called The Road Less Traveled. I spent 24 days with people from all over the United States, none of whom I knew. We met up in Miami and forfeited any and all connection to life as we knew it.

Day one was hard, it was tough not to feel lonely when the glass bridge connecting me to home was freshly shattered. We are constantly in contact with everyone we know, the whole world is at our finger-tips, refreshing every second. There is so much culture available to us 24-7, yet in reality, we are blind to the lives of those we do not know.

The trip had three main focuses; Spanish-language immersion, community service, and expanding cultural awareness. The first half consisted of community service in a small community in the Andes Mountains. This was a milk community, the entire town’s income was reliant on milk collection and distribution. We slept in tents just outside of the small community center, nights were cold and we slept holding water bottles filled with hot water because otherwise, our hands would go numb from the cold. The daily routine was simple, wake up early to prep for breakfast, eat, and then work until lunch on our construction project. We mixed cement day after day, hearts beating fast and breathing hard in the high altitude, and gathered materials to build a community bathroom. We would have a quick lunch and then get back to work until it was time for evening activities.

Some days we taught English, and the language was funny to the natives. We stumbled along with them, trying to explain the odd sounds and structures in a language we, ourselves, were clumsy in. At first, the locals were wary of us, the bumbling American teenagers, communication was at a minimum. However, as time went on and as the days got easier they began to accept us, we told stories and jokes and some days, they would come help us work. These were a hard-working people, every person had a job and if that job was not done, everyone would suffer and so they began to instill this work ethic in us.

There were mornings where my arms felt like cold lead and frost stole the heat from my feet as we walked, these were the hard days. I learned a lot in those times, about myself and about the strangers who worked along with me. There were also mornings where I would wake up early and see the sky paint itself blue as the sunlight peeked over the mountain tops. We hiked miles away and watched the wind ripple through the grass on the mountains like waves and along the way we would befriend the stray dogs that wandered onto our path. These days were something special and these people quickly became very important to me. We stood there together, tiny in the vast expanse of nature We became a family in those 24 days, relying on only each other. Those people picked me up on those long days, and I did the same for them.

We rely so much on the luxuries of our daily lives, the phones in our pockets, the warm beds we wake up in, the cars that take us to school where we learn more in a day than many people are able to do in weeks. Happiness can be elusive especially when achieving positive mental health takes a backseat to social and educational goals. There are often feelings of anxiety and stress when the idea of unplugging is brought up, our generation does not know life without this constant connection. A large portion of daily life revolves around analyzing what’s been posted online and the digital escape becomes more of a cage. I used to be someone who believed that happiness came from the number of likes on a picture and I was constantly in communication with other people online, but that was before this trip. I learned that happiness really does come from the inside, I know it’s cheesy and ridiculous, but it really is true. I spent these days unattached to technology and I had never been more joyful. Life doesn’t stop the moment you choose to look away from a screen, in fact, that’s when it begins. It is crucial to learn that true, unadulterated joy come from experiences.

Unfiltered moments laughing with friends and iced coffees on hot days and discovering a new song that you love, these are moments that we need to give priority to. I think my generation would be much happier if it did.

By Clara Comparan, Online Editor