Earlier this week, my fellow group of OMN 107 Volunteers had our Close of Service (COS) Conference in Tumbaco. I have been shamelessly counting down to this period of my service for no less than a year because I knew it marked the beginning of the end. It was a final 2.5 days for our group to come together to reflect on our service, think about the next steps, and most importantly start the process of saying goodbye. Like so many experiences, the idea that it won’t last forever is what gives us the urgency and the strength to push through the hard times. When the beginning of the end comes, you suddenly gain a whole new perspective on the life you’ve created and the amazingness of the place you’ve been living. You realize that you actually ARE leaving the experience, things will never be the same, you have to say goodbye to people and places (some forever), and that the experience has left an indelible mark on your heart and mind.

It all hit me like a ton of bricks. I was suddenly stressed about the amount of paperwork I have to complete before my COS date, March 7 by the way, and realized that the process of leaving might actually be more paperwork than leaving two years ago…and that is SAYING something. I have forgotten through my transition into work life in Ecuador how incredibly intense the work environment is in the U.S. compared to the hours I spend at school just hanging out and talking. And I have to get health insurance? WHAT? On top of getting a small reality check on life in the U.S., I had to come to terms with the fact that it was the last time our group would be together. We get each other on a completely different level, we’re bonded…not much else to say.

On the first day of COS, they asked each of us to write sticky notes on big posters for the new group of Volunteers who will be arriving next week (if any 111ers find this, enjoy your last few days in the U.S.!). I tried to boil everything down to a few words that would fit on a sticky note but each thing I wrote is loaded with memories, tears, excitement, and at the core, deep appreciation for it all. I remember reading the same notes from older volunteers when I first arrived and being overwhelmed and not fully understanding them at the time. It all makes sense now.

What’s the coolest thing you will take with you?

– An appreciation for a beautiful culture and way of life, the ability to speak Spanish

What was the funniest thing that happened?

– An older male teacher whispered “you smell fantastic!” in my ear in English before we marched in the Mama Negra parade in Latacunga

(“Robbery attempt via dog poop” was a close second but Liz beat me to it)

What has been your biggest success?

– Getting my teachers to plan their own English lessons using pop songs

What has been the biggest learning moment?

– Cafecito (this is the countless hours I have spent at school drinking coffee/tea with the teachers and not doing actual work but learning incredible amounts about their lives and culture and the 1-2 hours EVERY SINGLE night drinking tea with my host family…cafecito is the core of life here)

What do you want to forget?

– the occasional feelings of defeat

What advice would you give to the new group in one line?

– spend more time at cafecito than doing actual work, you’ll get more actual work done. BE BOLD!

What will you miss the most?

– the free-flowiness of life