By Carly Wheeler | Contributor
"I was outside crying just because it was really hard and I kept messing up and I couldn't communicate with people," junior Allison White said. "And my host dad came out and was trying to comfort me. He told me, 'You're a special girl and we see something different about you and we're here for you. We're your parents. I am your dad.'"
This was the beginning of White's process in finding a home in a foreign land. She spent the 2017 fall semester studying in Ecuador, where the new language, culture and family came with a range of never before faced challenges.
Flash forward from her first weeks in Ecuador to Nov. 24, however, and White woke up with a prayer in her heart and joyful expectations with just 15 days left of her semester: it was her 20th birthday.
She hoped her friends would throw a celebration for her as they had done for everyone else who had birthdays during the semester.
"We had surprise birthday parties for every person before me," White said. "So I was thinking, 'my family is probably going to throw a surprise party.'"
After the daily routine of going to class and then to a restaurant with friends, White went back to her host home and found her little siblings, Angie and Pancho, waiting for her.
They wasted some time with White, bringing her down to the basement to play, then back upstairs and finally to a room located in a different part of the house.
When they entered the dark room, balloons were thrown at White and everyone shouted, "Surprise! Happy birthday!"
She celebrated with her family, members of the church band and her fellow Taylor University classmates studying with her in Ecuador. The party was thoughtfully set up with great food, including: chocolate cake, chips, guacamole and panatas. They even gave her a tiara, which White wore happily the whole night.
And then the dancing began.
"We had an Ecuadorian versus American dance battle," White said. "So (the Ecuadorians) took little scarves and did this thing where they went under the scarf, and it was cool, and what we (Taylor students) did was the dance from Footloose. Classic."
In White's journal, she wrote how one of her friends looked at her and exclaimed that her happiness was especially evident in that moment.
She enjoyed watching her Ecuadorian parents dance together, her friends Rafa and junior Daniel Black have a hip-moving competition and one member of the local church band serenade her on the saxophone. A band member who owned a pizza shop even brought White's favorite type of pizza.
"It was my band, my Ecuadorian friends and my American friends," White said. "And we were just together and it was just beautiful. It was beautiful. It was such a fun time and will always be one of my favorite birthdays."
When White's host dad gave her those words of encouragement at the beginning of her semester-long journey, she took to heart the ways she was pursued in the midst of being lost and feeling out of place. She was able to find a home where she didn't even speak the same language, and now, she wants to pursue others who feel lost as well.
Looking back, she can see that without the hard times she wouldn't have begun to actively seek out those who feel stuck on the outside. She can look for those people because she remembers how it felt to be far from her comfort zone.
White's Ecuadorian birthday now serves as a reminder to her of the beauty of converging cultures and the value of seeing those on the outside and pulling them into the family.
Q: Where do you see the value in sharing stories?
A: "I love sharing stories because it gives me the chance to relive an experience as well as give the other person a window into my life. Sharing stories allows people to know of experiences other than their own, which is so crucial in appreciating the diverse and beautiful world God has created." -Allison White