When students study abroad, there tends to be an assumption that it's all travel, new friends, eating, drinking, and merry-ing about.

Studying abroad in Ecuador has included those things, and it truly has been wonderful. This is a beautiful world we've been gifted, with the most beautiful people in it. There is love and Amistad everywhere I look. But it's been just as difficult as it has been wonderful, after three weeks in.

I have sat silently at tables because anxiety kept me from attempting to insert myself into a conversation in Spanish that I didn't fully understand. I have sat silently at tables because I'm afraid of being myself.

I have eaten food baked in plantain leaves (or were they banana?).

I have eaten a lot of really good food, a lot of which really reminds me of my Lithuanian roots, because LONG LIVE MEAT AND POTATOES.

I have learned the names of fruits I didn't know existed, and I've just barely scratched the surface of the fruta world.

I have seen a lot of really cute dogs. A lot. Including a baby dachshund, which made me cry a little. Most of them are stray.

I have had to hold myself back from petting said dogs.

I have cried almost every day, if not every day.

I have forgotten how to pray. I have felt disconnected from God.

I have felt disconnected from myself. The trials of life continue at every point on the planet.

I have experienced the loudest rain of my entire existence.

I have swum in a waterfall, whose water was a color you wouldn't believe. Like an emerald. A snake fell into the waterfall, and my entire class scattered, screaming.

It was hilarious. You had to be there, really.

I have heard terrible stories, stories that shatter something inside of me.

I have sensed a disgust of human history that grows every time I learn of another atrocity (which is nothing new).

I have questioned the possibility of peace, and I have grown deeper in my belief that Love is the only One who can bring us to see harmony. Deeper in my belief that Peace has a name. Feeling far from God always moves me to need Him more.

I have learned about an indigenous culture that embodies a human relationship with the Earth and other beings that is absolutely holy. I have been graced by the kindness of an indigenous family that I will never forget. It is far from my intention to further colonize this culture with my beliefs, because my religion has been used to justify the destruction of an entire people (peoples, actually), but their love and connection to this tierra and this life are honestly Christlike to me. I have seen the beauty of so much truth. Nobody is a stranger.

"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."

I have spoken with afroecuatorianos whose history has been rewritten by those in power, who triumph and overcome with the power of their cultural identities and an unstoppable vivacity.

The fight does not stop. Neither does the dancing.

I have felt the beauty of diversity resonate in my classes, brain, and daily life here.

I have felt isolated, black sheeped, unfitting.

I have felt uncomfortable beyond my normal bravery.

I have raged against these feelings.

And I have given in to feeling human.

I have been shown a deep, down-to-earth love that I've never seen before. I've been treated like a family member by those who barely know me. I have felt lost, while Love affirms that it is still winning.

I have been shown community and bienvenida with arms spread wide enough to engulf all my fear.

I have felt like I can't go on.

I have been reminded that I can.

It's safe to say that my first few weeks in Ecuador have both run me into the ground of my emotions and anxiety while pushing me to grow. This little plant can feel a new petal growing here and there. Have you ever felt yourself to be growing? Little growth-spurts of heart, courage, faith.

Ecuador and the love it holds is cultivating me, land and sky and sun. I think cultivating is one of the things Ecuador was created to do.

And so I look to the Light and thank Him for another day of the sun's warmth. The coldness, the darkness, could never be strong enough to destroy it.