Group Think: Non-Fiction piece

13 Dec

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it by living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other peoples thinking. Don’t let the noise of other people opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you want to become. Everything else is secondary.”-Steve jobs

Group Think

The first time a person leaves home is one of the most defining moments in their lives, because that is the moment they find out who they really are away from the familiarity and comfort of home. It is the moment people discover what they really want out of life. I was twenty years old when I traveled to Ecuador and it awakened inside me a wanderlust I had never known before and since then I have begun to question every life choice I have ever made.

I’ve always classified people into two different groups; individualists and conformists. Individualists, being the Jack Kerouac’s of the world, the ones who travel to places unknown just because they can and the ones who dream crazy dreams and believe they will come true. Then there are people like you and me. We are the ones who conform to society’s norms, or our parents demands, without really considering why we do the things we do or if we even like doing the things we do.

Last month I flew to Quito, Ecuador to visit my sister who is studying abroad at La Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I was going to spend Thanksgiving with her and as I boarded the plane, anxiety overtook me. I began to second-guess my decision to fly to a third world country. I started asking myself why I had even wanted to go to a country where I would have very little access to Internet, cable, and cell service in the first place. Growing up in a middle class family in The United States does not prepare you for the trials and tribulations of a third world country, but it also does not teach you the values that are so deeply engrained in Ecuadorian culture. Arriving in Quito that very first night, I was nervous and honestly a little terrified. I was in a foreign country and all I had was six semesters worth of college Spanish to get by. Little did I know, this would be more than enough. My sister met me at the rental car station and we then preceded to wait two hours to rent a car that we had already booked online. At first, I grew frustrated and annoyed that my rental car wasn’t ready for me. How difficult is it to run a rental car agency, I thought to myself. It’s not brain surgery. This is when I began to question the fast paced lives of every American, including myself. Why do we live in a constant rush of places to go and deadlines to meet? We construct our lives on a timeline and we get frustrated when anything causes a delay in our perfectly plotted day. There is never enough time for Americans, but in Ecuador time is not a concept. Time doesn’t even really exist. The culture of Ecuador is slow paced and carefree and the people just seemed to live moment to moment.

From that moment on, I began to cherish the long periods of waiting for my dinner to come because it gave me a chance to actually converse with the people I was dining with. I was thrilled when it took us forty-five minutes to wave down a taxi, because that meant I would get a chance to walk around the city and absorb more of the culture. It suddenly dawned on me that maybe the American way isn’t the best way, and maybe our societal norms are actually rather absurd and detrimental to our personal happiness. My very first night in Quito, I sat with my sister and several friends in a restaurant for two hours after we had already finished eating our meal. I tried to think of the last time I had gone to a restaurant in America and spent more than an hour there. I couldn’t remember the last time.

My first real Ecuadorian adventure happened on the second day I was there. My sister, my mom, two friends and I, all decided to drive out to Otavalo to see the largest market in Ecuador. During the three-hour drive through winding roads and hectic and bustling traffic, the mountains that surrounded us on all sides entranced me. People walked on the side of the freeway with their young children thrown on their backs in make shift baby carriers as if it were a completely normal day-to-day activity. Cows and horses were chained up on the sidewalks waiting for their owners to come back for them and dogs lined the streets scavenging for any morsel of food they could find. Street vendors flocked through the roads and everyone seemed perfectly content doing the same monotonous activies every single day as a way of life. They all lived in poverty and they all seemed at ease with their simple lives. I thought back to my life at home and how nothing I ever did ever really seemed good enough and once I finished one task, I immediately moved on to another. I never felt at ease or content with my life, because I was always too stressed out or worried about the future to take two seconds out of my day to just sit and relax. Upon arriving at Otavalo market, we wandered through the menagerie of clothes, bags, paintings and other assortments of handmade goods. The children were as young as five years old and were working as venders for their families trying to earn a buck, and everybody tried to sell you their product. What about education? I thought, as I bought a scarf from a twelve year old. I wondered why I was in college and if it was really something I wanted for myself. In Spanish, I asked the little girl why she wasn’t in school and she responded that she didn’t want to be in school because she liked working with her mom at the market. I marveled at the idea of higher education not being a necessity to make a decent living. We, Americans, go to school and make good grades so that we can go to more school to get good jobs to make our parents proud to impress strangers and to make money. Why? I wondered if I would even be going to college if my parents hadn’t offered to pay for everything. I wondered if I would be going to college if it weren’t what society expected of me. Probably not, I decided. Groupthink is something so many Americans are plagued with. We form friendships and bonds with people and peers and our brains begin to morph into one. We start to believe what they believe and we like what they like and we feel that it’s nice to fit in rather than stand out and risk being on the edge all alone. I had suffered from it my entire life. I grew up believing what my parents believed and I went to church because my mother went to church and I decided to major in business because it is what my father wanted me to do. All of a sudden, standing in front of that twelve year old girl at Otavalo market, I realized my life wasn’t really my own. The past twenty years I had lived for everyone except me. In my defense, I was too young to really understand any of this for most of my life, but now that I had realized it, I couldn’t ignore it.

After spending way too much money in Otavalo market, we drove about thirty minutes to Las Cascadas de Peguche, a small town outside of Otavalo. It was a tiny little sacred town that had played host to The Battle of Peguche, a battle for Ecuadorian independence. Little shops lined the cobblestoned streets and women in traditional Ecuadorian dresses sat in chairs outside cooking and talking. A group of teenage boys sat outside with banjos and acoustic guitars singing Spanish songs and as I stood swaying gently to their music, I realized I felt completely and utterly at ease. We walked through the small town and through the trodden down trail that led us to a small and elegant waterfall. It was small and simple and in probably didn’t even compare to most other waterfalls in the world and yet somehow I found it captivating and magnificent. We spent the next couple hours walking through the vast green trees and muddy trails around the waterfall and we laughed and we talked about things that didn’t mean anything, but somehow meant everything. We left Peguche when it started getting dark and began our trek back to Quito in our rental car. We had been driving for an hour and upon navigating through Cayambe, we realized the road to Quito was closed. At this point, it was close to 8pm and we were all exhausted and hungry and just desperate to get back into the city. As we drove through Cayambe trying to find some way out of the small city, we saw herds of people walking, all in the same direction. Puzzled and curious, we asked some of the locals what was going on and they politely informed us that every year on that particular day there is an annual festival held for the virgin Mary. Thousands of people walk from their homes with their families to the city where the festival and worship is held. Some people walked for days just to get there. An officer told us that the roads to Quito were closed until 4am and that we could either wait in our car or stay the night in Cayambe. We grew frustrated until we realized how comical the entire experience was. “We got screwed over by a virgin!” I screamed, laughing hysterically. My friend responded with, “how ironic!” We drove around for two hours trying to find a hostel or hotel with available rooms. Most of them were full because hundreds of people, like us, were stuck unexpectedly in Cayambe for the night. Finally, we found Hostel San Pedro, who offered our group of five their last two beds. Once our laughter began spilling out it didn’t stop and even though that night had been chaotic and exhausting, it was the most fun I could remember having in years. In that night, nothing back home mattered. All the work I had to do for school ceased to exist, stressing about what I was doing with my life stopped and all that mattered was that night with those people who made me laugh until I cried. The next day we woke when our bodies told us to, because we didn’t have cell phones or alarm clocks to answer to. It was surprisingly early, around 9am when we began the drive back to Quito. One nights adventure was over, but others were about to begin.

During my week stay in Quito, we did many fun touristy activities; one of my favorites was Mitad Del Mundo. Mitad Del Mundo means the middle of the world in Spanish, which means tourists, get the chance to stand in two hemispheres at once and to say they have stood on the equator before. I was insanely excited about this because it meant I could cross ‘standing in two hemispheres’ off my bucket list. We also went to Teleferico, which is a lift that takes you 4,000 feet above the city of Quito. Standing at the top of Teleferico was the most beautiful things I had ever seen. The entire city lay below me and mountains engulfed me. As I looked out on the city, I realized that moments like that are what life is all about. At Teleferico, I met a man named Michael Alexa who was from Austria. He was traveling alone, which, I deemed as being intrepid seeing as it was something I had yet to do. He shared many stories with me about his previous travels to various countries all over the world and he told me I had to visit Austria someday. I found it curious that at the age of forty he would be traveling alone so I asked why he had come to Quito. He then proceeded to tell me about his life struggle with epilepsy and how there are many epilepsy conferences across the world that he attends. I was intrigued and inspired by his story and his love of traveling even with his health condition. There are people who live their whole lives staying in the same place, never realizing that they are missing out on a great big beautiful world. I didn’t want to be like those people anymore. What does staying in the same place teach you? I asked myself. It teaches you how to get a job that you will work for thirty years and most likely hate, but you will keep working their because you decide it’s the only option you have. It teaches you about routine and responsibility and never taking chances. Groupthink has taken over our lives and society has brain washed our minds into thinking everybody has to live a certain way to be considered successful or happy. Yet, there at Teleferico I met a man living with epilepsy, who was happy and excited about life and he lived life on his own terms. I was impressed by him and envious of his travels and I felt his life was admirable. Many people go to school and get masters degrees or doctorates and expect for everybody to be proud of them and impressed by them. As I stood at the top of Teleferico with Michael Alexa, I realized it’s not how many degrees you get or how you live your life, but rather, what you do with those degrees and what you do with your life to make it mean something. After that day, my whole outlook on life gradually began to change. Moment by moment, person by person, laugh by laugh, I was starting to realize what mattered to me, what I valued and who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be that person working day and night just to move an inch up the corporate ladder and I didn’t want to base every life decision on how much something would cost me or how much time would be wasted. Ecuador was opening my eyes to things I had never allowed myself to see before.

On Wednesday, my mom and I went to meet my sister’s host family. They were gracious enough to invite us over for a late lunch and as we made small talk I was amazed by how close their whole family appeared to be. The mom and dad had been married for forty years and had three children who all treated each other with respect, looked at each other lovingly and spoke to each other as equals. It was an interesting dynamic to see and compare to many of the family dynamics in America. As we talked, I learned that the entire family woke at 5am every morning to go workout together and that every Sunday they spent the whole day together. Two of the unmarried children, both in there thirties, still lived at home and this was culturally accepted and even encouraged in Ecuador. I thought about how in America it was social suicide to still be living at home in your thirties and most parents would have kicked you out before then anyways. Family is not an American value, but in Ecuador, family comes before everything. Why wouldn’t American culture value family ties? Well, I guess that is because we encourage independence and individualism. The irony, however, is that hardly anyone in America is an individual. The majority of Americans have become what society molded them to be, conforming and never questioning why things are the way they are. Friends turn into their friends and children turn into their parents and nobody is really their own person. During lunch, the son asked me what I was studying in school and I told him I was studying communication and English. I was surprised to see the whole family light up in intrigue. They asked what I wanted to do with my English degree and I told them I wanted to be a writer. I was expecting the typical response I get, which is to say, good luck with that and I hope you are able to make enough money. However, I was pleasantly surprised when they all seemed delighted by the idea and the father went on to tell me about his favorite Latin American author even recommending some of his books to me. I can’t explain how good it felt knowing that a family of strangers in a foreign country believed in my passion and my dream. I am constantly plagued with negative remarks about pursuing a career in writing. People in America look at me with pity as if I am throwing my whole life away, but this family looked at me with hope and offered me words of encouragement and praise. They reminded me that my dreams are not empty and that I should let my passions rule my life; because at least then I’d always be doing something I love. It was a heartwarming and rejuvenating lunch, which is much more than I had expected to get out of a simple lunch with simple people.

As any young adult would do while abroad, I had to experience the nightlife. One night my sister, some friends, and I all went out to Finn McCools, which is a popular Irish pub in the heart of Quito. Most of the people that frequented this pub were foreigners, travelers, or English speakers so we fit right in. Coincidentally, the night we went was the same night they had their weekly trivia night. We signed up after finding out the categories were music, current events, famous celebrities living or dead, and the Olympics. After scoring a measly 12 out of 50 points, I realized how little I knew about the world and different cultures. Americans seemed so preoccupied with only learning their own country’s history that it seemed as though we often missed out on learning the history of the world. This saddened me, because as I was learning the world was a beautiful place and the world had much to teach me. After, Finn McCools, we headed over to No Bar, a trendy club that locals, young and old, and foreigners frequented. The music was loud and the energy was electric as people danced to the beat of the music. In the corner stood two very light complected men who looked like they may be Americans. In the spirit of meeting new people, I walked over and introduced my self. One boy, named Hunter, was eighteen years old and from a small town in Montana. The other was a thirty something man from London. They were each traveling through South America alone, but by chance had been placed as roommates in their hostel in Quito. I was intrigued by Hunter simply because I didn’t know any eighteen year olds who traveled the world by themselves. The first thing I asked him was, “oh, you aren’t in school?” It was rare to find an American who didn’t attend college for at least a semester or two. My next thought was that he must come from money to be able to afford his travels, but he politely informed me that he had worked odd jobs throughout South America to make enough money for food and hostels. I again stopped to question my life path and all the choices I had made. I am twenty years old and living exactly how my parents planned for me to live, but maybe their way of living isn’t what I really want. As Hunter and I talked late into the night, he shared with me his adventures through Argentina, Brazil and Chili and the fun he had while visiting the Amazon. Just before I left for the night, Hunter kissed me, passionately and gently as if he knew this would be the first and last time. It was as if he knew I was missing out on something, like he knew something about the world that I didn’t. I wanted more than anything to stay with him, just to talk, and to learn, but reality beckoned me.

Throughout the week I met many interesting people. A Cuban man who serenaded me on the bus to make money, a Johnny Depp looking Chilean man who had moved to Quito for work, a young girl who sold scarves on the street just to get by, a husband and wife named Nancy and Solano who took it upon themselves to be my tour guide and my sisters two best friends abroad; Allison and Roberto. Of course, there was also Michael Alexa of Austria, Hunter from Montana, John from London, and my sister’s entire host family. All of these people had made an impact on me without even knowing it and I realized that travelling was a way to discover not only who I am, but also what I am not. Upon meeting new people and experiencing the culture in Quito, I began questioning my own life, the path I had chosen, and the influence society and my peers have had on me. I began to think that maybe the best way to learn wasn’t by going to school for six years and graduating with a masters, but rather, by going out into the world and experiencing what it had to offer. Yes, an education teaches you a lot of interesting things, some even useful in the real world, but there are some things only life can teach you. An education doesn’t teach you how to get over heartbreak or mourn the loss of a loved one and it certainly doesn’t teach you how to feel comfortable in social situations or maintain lifelong friendships. An education doesn’t teach you how to be spontaneous and carefree or fall in love and it doesn’t teach you how to show compassion to the homeless man standing on the street corner or the stray dog who hasn’t eaten in weeks. Really, an education doesn’t teach you anything worth knowing. After realizing all of that, I thought I could live in Ecuador forever.

The night before I was supposed to fly back home, I told my mom I didn’t want to leave and I asked her if I could stay. “Sure,” she said not taking me seriously. I thought about it for a while and no matter how badly I wanted to stay in Quito and experience the culture and lifestyle, I knew I had to go back. I had finals coming up and I had responsibilities at home. The American way had already been engrained in my brain and my mentality was that of following through with my commitments and being responsible. My heart said stay, but my head said no. Upon returning to the United States, I felt this longing inside of me that I had never felt before. A longing to travel to new places, discover new things, meet new people, and try to understand the world and myself. I felt rejuvenated and inspired and somehow lighter. I knew what I needed to do. As soon as I arrived back to school, I began saving my money for a summer trip to Chili and I began to question my life rather than blindly accept what others told me. I flew to Ecuador thinking it was going to be a simple little trip to visit my sister, but I left with so much more. I found out what I want in my life right now, and more importantly I realized the person I don’t want to become. The American way may work for you, but I have realized it does not work for me anymore. I don’t want to live with monetary values as my biggest goal. I want to live with passion, freedom, family and fun.

Although, I will probably never be able to completely shake the American way, I will no longer immerse myself in Group Think and I will no longer live to make others happy. I refuse to be trapped by dogma, which is the worst kind of living because it is living with the results of other peoples thinking. Every person in this world is an individual and should strive to live as such. Society shouldn’t be the main influence in our lives and we shouldn’t conform to what we think others want us to be. My experiences in Ecuador really opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and made me realize my life wasn’t satisfying, because it wasn’t my own. In a way, Ecuador gave me my life back.

This is a personal story about my recent trip to Ecuador that truly opened my eyes and made me begin to question the whys of the world. Some themes are individualism, conformity, societal norms and the influences our peers and family have on us, giving us a group think mentality. This is the story of a girl, me, who went to a third world country for the first time and it wasn’t anything she expected at all. The people I met, the sites I saw and the moments I had all had a profound and life altering affect on me, which made me being to question the way I live and others live, and what I had been basing my life choices on. This is supposed to be a story that expresses the idea of thinking for yourself and experiencing life on your terms and not on societies terms.


3 Responses to “Group Think: Non-Fiction piece”

  1. D December 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Loved your story, traveling is amazing!!!!! Lets not discuss Groupthink with Nate until he’s out of college.,Sorry!!! Love you lots, See you Christmas

  2. 3hl0hNbFu December 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    552811 622024What a lovely weblog page. I will surely be back once again. Please maintain writing! 869361

  3. aion kinah December 20, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    Spot on with this write-up, I seriously believe this website needs much more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the advice!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: