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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Back Together Again

Have you ever thought about those life-defining moments?

I have... I've thought about it a lot.

When I can successfully pinpoint a real life-defining moment, I tend to try and piece things together in an attempt to figure out what direction my life would have taken, had this particular thing not occurred. Does that make any sense?

If you’re wondering what I mean, 'defining moments' are usually specific points in life where you might experience something that fundamentally changes you or the path you take. Not only do these moments define us, but they have a transformative effect on our perceptions and behaviours. Sometimes defining moments are negative… and we’ve all had those… but in regards to my experiences with Australia or even tied into Australia, they are ALL positive. Or at least I see them as positive now.

I think we all must have that real defining moment in our life that really encapsulates exactly what course our life is going to take.

Mine was Ecuador.

Ecuador was a significant moment where my path was undeniably determined. Me too... as a person. Everyone is probably thinking, what in the world does Ecuador have to do with Australia?


I spent a year in Guayaquil, Ecuador on a student exchange program. The year was 1991 and I was accepted through an Intercultural Exchange Program called AFS. It stood for American Field Service… and the program was developed after WWII to perpetuate international friendships in peacetime.

I remember that we had to pick the three top countries we would like to experience... and to this day, I have no idea if I actually picked Ecuador or not, but that's the country I got. It was a colossal move for me... and looking back, I was definitely not mature enough to be unleashed into the world, let alone into such unfamiliar territory.

I was 18 years old… and hardly the pilar of international maturity and responsibility. Regardless of my ignorance and adolescence, off I went. Somehow I survived a full year, somewhat unscathed, as baffling as that is to imagine.

I lived with an Ecuadorian family - the Muentes… and I attended an all-girls Catholic School, Santo Domingo de Guzman. For an entire year, I integrated myself into life in Guayaquil.  I made a lot of friends at my school and had so many fabulous (and tough) times with my family… but the glue that really kept me together was the other exchange students.

There were 15 of us.

~ 7 Australians - Anthony, Glen, Alex, Jane, Kellie, Belinda and Catherine.

~ 3 Canadians - Tim, Tracy... and myself.

~ 5 Swedes - Marie, Albin, Andre, Sofia and Anna.

This motley crew meant everything to me and our friendship was probably one of the most sacred relationships developed in my life. We weren’t only friends, we were family. Packed within the span of only one year, together we tackled a new language, a new home, a new family, new surroundings and a completely new culture. Taking responsibility for ourselves so far from our own countries and at such a young age, we supported each other through difficult relationships, awkward situations, language barriers and culture shock, as well as frequent bouts of loneliness and homesickness.

We were wild... there was no doubt about that. We never missed an opportunity to have fun, and consequently, some of us managed to get into a lot of trouble. Myself included.

I believe this first year of solo travel abroad helped to establish my love of travel... and more than likely, my addiction to adventure. Although technically I wasn’t entirely alone, it was a very monumental move. How any of our parents thought it would be a good idea to let us loose into the wild of Ecuador is beyond me… let alone my parents.


Yet, it happened… and that extraordinary year moulded us all into who we are today.

Then thirty-three years later… in a quaint little coastal rental in Beachmere, a few of us came back together. Glen, Anthony, Alex, Belinda and myself.

It was unreal seeing each other again... and a moment I will never forget. For those 24 hours, we were all together again. Just a random bunch of young teenagers thrown together.

Such a special time.

For all of us.

The stories were nonstop. We scoured through the photographs and the memories... and on more than one occasion, laughed until tears were streaming down our faces. Over the course of the evening and quite a lot of cheers & beers & wines, we used the power of modern technology and social media to connect with some of the others too far away to join us for the weekend. We caught up with Anna, Sofia and Albin from Sweden and Tim from Canada.

We all met at such a young age… and we had our whole lives ahead of us. Now, we were meeting again... with our youth behind us... and (as grim as it sounds) approaching the end of our lives.

Yes... of course, we've all grown up and changed and evolved... but deep down, I think we're still just that motley crew.

I end up in floods of tears just thinking about it.

Emotional overload.

This reunion prompted me to start thinking about all the fabulous moments that have happened in my life and all the wonderful people I've encountered along the way. I think that this reconnection may have been the pivotal moment we all needed. Old friends sure have the power to provide a new perspective on our lives.

I wouldn't go back in time and change one second of it.

Not for the world.

I recently read up on the benefits of connecting with old friends, and this is what I discovered;

~ It pushes the happy metre up.

~ It increases your quality of health.

~ It points to a longer life.

~ It can cultivate resiliency after experiencing hardship.

~ It can strengthen your immune system.

~ It can lower anxiety and depression.

~ It can increase self-esteem.

I think we all walked away from this weekend... and this life-defining moment... happier, more confident, more positive and more appreciative for having experienced what we all did, together, all those years ago... and again, thirty-three years later...

Until we meet again, my friends ❤️

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