Thanks for trying to offer what you see as an empowering perspective, Karel! If it makes you feel any better, first of all, there’s no self-pity here. The experience was formative (as the essay makes clear), and I’m thankful for the perspectives that it awakened me to, even if the learning curve was hard.
“if you didn’t like the place”— Things weren’t that simple. There’s a lot I LOVED about Ecuador. While quite a few people had experiences like mine there, many people also adore the country and have a purely fantastic time there. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I found many aspects of the culture fascinating.
“why did you not just leave?”—A hard truth: some people are stuck in shitty circumstances — from jobs, to relationships, to dangerous living situations — due to socioeconomic disadvantage. I’m from a blue-collar family in a blue-collar place. Scholarships were the only way I could afford college, and I was on four of them. Dropping out of that semester to go home could’ve jeopardized my scholarships and, thus, my ability to get a degree. I also couldn’t afford to “waste” a semester of tuition and thus drag my college time out beyond 4 years. Similarly, as a foreign-language major, study abroad was more or less essential, and I feared that if I threw in the towel and went home, I’d be unable to get references to study abroad again, because those gatekeepers might look at me as “the student who couldn’t handle study abroad.” So, by staying in Ecuador, I was essentially making a sacrifice (of comfort) for the sake of securing my future opportunities, as a person of limited means.
Hope that all of this helps to clarify your concerns and helps you to see experiences like these from a more empathic angle. And thank you so much for having taken the time to read and think about my story!