I am an avid reader of anything having to do with mountain climbing and in every book I’ve read on the subject, ascending a mountain is not just a physical feat, but a mental battle. According to Walt Undsworth, the people who climb Everest usually have three things in common, “faith in themselves, great determination, and endurance.”
The challenges of mountain climbing and the qualities inherent in those who attempt it have taken on a new meaning now that I am abroad. Like climbing a mountain, studying abroad is an experience which is physically and mentally exhausting, and like climbers, it takes a great deal of faith and determination to become accustomed to a new place.
Being in a different county is an exercise in expanding one’s comfort zone; the amenities, customs, food, geography, and language that one is used to changes dramatically. The first couple of days I spoke only Spanish with my host family, wasn’t in contact with anyone from home, and had a strange (and quite unpleasant) combination of altitude sickness and a gastrointestinal aversion to something in the food or the water. It was very overwhelming.
But now I have started to see friends from home and make new friends, and things are not as overwhelming. Going out into the city isn’t as scary when someone else is with me to help communicate and being at home isn’t as isolating when I know that I will get to see friends soon.
I’ve even started to find the activities that I enjoy from back home. For instance, today I was exploring campus and saw a couple of guys practicing slack-lining. For those of you not in the know, slack-lining is the practice of walking and balancing on a flat rope (like the kinds used to strap down cargo) usually suspended between two trees. I walked up and started talking with them and practiced some slack lining. I found out the guys recently picked up slack-lining as a hobby but were avid freestyle runners and friends with rock climbers. Now I’ve got an outlet to a hobby that I can usually only pursue in Colorado.
Even though I have started adjusting, I know there will be more challenges to come. But I also know that there will be people around to help me out, and that Ecuador offers more opportunities to connect and have fun than to intimidate.
I think the following quote from George Mallory, who attempted Everest several times and died in this pursuit, sums things up pretty well:
“Suffice if to say that [Everest] has the most steep ridges and appalling precipices that I have ever seen, and that all the talk of an easy snow slope is a myth…My darling, this is a thrilling business altogether, I can’t tell you how it possesses me, and what a prospect it is. And the beauty of it all!”
– George Mallory, in a letter to his wife, 1921 (from Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’)
And I promise as soon as I get my act together I’ll get some pictures up here or on facebook or something!