When I first looked over all the Explore awards available for the under eighteens, Ecuador was my first choice simply because I just wanted to be exposed to the Spanish language. Little did I know that this experience would give me so much more than that. Spending a month in Ecuador left me captivated by the food, culture and the people, all of which welcomed me with open arms.

I said goodbye to everything that I’d ever known and headed for this quest into the unknown. I left for the airport with my parents in a hurry at 5am, anxious and excited for what awaited me. A quick goodbye to ensure no tears were shed.

It was as if the odds were in my favour as I bumped into my best friend who had another flight to catch. We had a nice breakfast with her family which helped me feel more at ease with the lengthy journey awaiting. I headed to the gate and later said farewell to my wonderful home Dublin, my first ever flight solo.

When I got to Heathrow airport my family called while I waited for my next flight to Miami. The sound of their voices mixed with a little sense of loneliness and the next thing I knew I was crying. All I wanted was to be back home with them. I quickly reminded myself how this experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t possibly miss out on, so I held back my tears and headed for Miami. A flight spent watching sappy romance movies to somehow comfort me.

All feelings of anxiety and worry left my body when I finally landed in my destination, although it took over an hour to find the couple that were collecting me from the airport. It may have been late at night, but the breath-taking view of Quito did not disappoint. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I got a warm feeling in my heart, making me feel like this is where I was meant to be. After an hour journey, I arrived at the house of my host family at 1am, so it’s safe to say the only thing on my mind was sleep. Being in my new room for the next while felt so surreal, almost like someone cooler than me was living my life. I still find it hard to comprehend how a girl like me was given such a precious opportunity.

Everyone was so patient with my Spanish as it was quite difficult to adjust to. The Spanish classes were a saviour during my stay. My teacher Fernanda made every class fresh and exciting with all kinds of games and ideas that taught me the language and culture that Ecuador had to offer. This also made me realise how lucky I am and many of us are to experience such a high quality of education in Ireland, and that must be valued. Not only in a traditional sense but also through the gift of travel. This really made me key into the fourth sustainable development goal which is quality education; an area that has always been important to me.

Experiences like travel are education and show us the way people lead their lifestyles, communicate with others and how they grow in other areas. In some countries there aren’t enough traditional or non-traditional forms of learning for young people. This truly resonated with me as everyone should be able to experience education, no matter their financial state, to wander to faraway places and become changed positively by what they absorb. More changes are needed for young people, especially girls who are still solely seen as caretakers in some places. Some young boys and girls around the world are without a voice. Education is fundamental in giving them that voice.

Not only was I able to improve my Spanish speaking ability, I was given the chance to explore the beauty that is Ecuador with an amazing American group. We became a family in such little time which was something I did not expect. I remember vividly thinking that they may not like me, however, that was so far from the reality. They were all amazing individuals that filled me with pure happiness. We went from the Mindo cloud rainforest, where we got to enjoy the beauty of waterfalls, while also learning about the conservation of the flora and fauna. While staying at the CEA accommodation, we had to respect the animals by not making too much noise or interacting with them. We were in their home to learn about how it was being conserved. I gained so much from this as I realised how crucial these different animals are and how we as humans are obligated to look out for them.

Ahh, thinking back about Baños, a breathtaking touristy town filled with beautiful markets where you can avail of one of a kind mementos. Although I got to venture gorgeous places, the company I had with me made every adventure much more meaningful. One of my favourite memories from the trip was tubing at the Oriente close to the end of our time in Ecuador. The water was so calm and peaceful with the occasional spider monkey or hummingbird in our vista. The bliss of nature, with such remarkable people, was a mixture of happiness.

Both my host family in Quito and Riobamba treated me as if I was their own, making it hard for me to say goodbye. I still remember vividly, my host mother and seven-year-old sister and I sobbing as I had to leave Riobamba. They filled my heart with joy and my stomach with the wonder that is Ecuadorian cuisine. They constantly thought of my wellbeing and catered to my every need. One thing I will never forget is the hospitality and love that I experienced from every encounter that I had with the Ecuadorian people. They truly allowed me to create a second home there.

When I bid farewell to my American family and all the remarkable members of EIL Ecuador that helped me during my stay, I was so emotional and it’s safe to say I did a fair bit of crying. However, I reached an epiphany in the taxi on my way back to my host family’s house in Quito. I realised that I shouldn’t sulk or dwell in sadness for too long because beautiful memories were made, and I can go home knowing that the happiness I experienced was a special kind. So, when I was on the roof of the apartment complex with my host sister Cami for the last time, I took a mental picture of the view and couldn’t help but be happy. I treasured every moment I spent in Ecuador, every little thing.

The memories that I made throughout this laughter filled journey will stay with me forever. I gained a new perspective on the world and myself while also realising how I must preserve the beauty of the country I saw, and the rest of the world. It was truly the best month of my life. I got to improve my Spanish, my main agenda. However, I also got to live out my biggest adventure. I would do it all again in a heartbeat! To anyone who yearns to explore, travel and change, don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Do what sets your soul on fire. It will change you for the better.

- Favour, Ecuador