By Lamya Zikry
Hearing gun shots in the middle of the night was not what Jamesville-DeWitt High School’s junior Owen Williams expected when he signed up to go to Ecuador for The Rotary Exchange Program. Despite the fact that he was staying with a great family and had made a lot of friends, he felt the need to head back home.
“It was super dangerous, violent, and drug-filled,” says Williams about Portoviejo, Manabi, Ecuador which is where he lived. “ While I was walking around the streets with friends, I would see the drug deals happening and even at times the houses where the drugs came from,” said Williams. “For me, it was scary. It was uncomfortable to go outside because people were walking around with guns, so it wasn’t very safe to go out,” said Williams. “My family (Ecuadorian family) didn’t really say much, they were more concerned about my feelings when I told them I felt unsafe,” said Williams.
But it wasn’t all bad. “I got better in Spanish. I got to see what it was like to be poor, like I saw the differences between families. The family I stayed with wasn’t poor, though. I actually had my own room with a Play Station 3 and everything I needed,” said Williams.
Williams says that his favorite memory was when he went to the beach. “I went to Mompiche Beach with a bunch of friends and we spent a whole week there. There were free, all-you-can-eat, 24/7 buffets and free drinks. And we went horse-back riding on the beach. It was the best,” said Williams.
Around New Year’s he came to the realization that he wanted to come back though. “I had been thinking about it for a couple of months, and I missed everyone, like my best friends (junior) Andrew Scibilia and (senior) Emily Bazydlo,” said Williams.
If you think coming back was easy for Williams, think again. “I had to go through a long process to come back home. First, I had to talk to my mom about it and make sure she was okay with it. She said that if I wanted to come home, then it’s my decision and she’d support me either way.Then I had to talk to my guidance counselor in Ecuador, and after that I had to talk with my counselor back here at J-DHS. Another thing I had to do was talk to the president of a club I was in called the Rotary International District 4400 and he also told me that it was okay, because it was my decision and not theirs. Finally, I had to talk with my travel agent,” said Williams. Even though Williams came back half a year early, he’s still going to graduate in 2014. He’ll be a junior next year, as though he never came back early. He’s currently taking several electives that will help him out later.
The family he stayed with was “super nice,” said Williams. “I had a mom, a dad, 16- and 11-year-old brothers, and a 10 year-old sister. There was even another exchange student from Wisconsin staying with the family,” said Williams.
As it turns out, Ecuador and America have quite a few things in common. “A lot of the fashion was imported. A lot of the clothes were from America and so was the technology. The cars were very similar; they had Chevys and Toyotas. Plus, a lot of people could speak English,” said Williams. But, there were a lot of differences as well. “They spoke Spanish, and there was no ethnic diversity, so like everybody was short, had brown hair, and brown eyes. There weren’t any blondes like me.There were also lots of (different) plants and animals there,” said Williams. “There weren't many different plants, mainly dead looking bushes and trees but there were some crazy looking animals. There were a lot of lizards and little insects that crawled round all over the place,” said Williams.
Being in Ecuador has changed him. “I feel like it has made me an all-around better person. It has opened my eyes to the rest of the world,” said Williams. “It was fun while I was there, but I’m glad I’m back. Being with all my friends and family and just being at school is actually nice. And I missed the food,” said Williams. “I really missed pasta because down there they ate rice with almost every meal, so they didn't really need all of the extra carbs from the pasta,” said Williams.
With Williams back from Ecuador, his friends sure have a lot to say. “I’m thoroughly impressed with his maturity, strength, and beauty. He’s a changed man, so I’m happy,” said his older brother, senior Noel Williams. He was not surprised that Owen decided to come back because, “I was with him every step of the way through the adventure, through Facebook and Skype,” said Noel Williams. Senior Emily Bazydlo thinks that Owen being back is great. “I love it, also he’s one of my best friends and we hang out all the time now and have classes together,” said Bazydlo. “I wasn’t surprised that he came back because I was one of the first to know he was coming back. I anticipated for two weeks him coming back,” said Bazydlo. “I missed him.
“I love him being back,” said junior and best friend of Williams, Andrew Scibilia. “I was very surprised because he said he really enjoyed it down there,” said Scibilia. Junior Klaire Moller loves having him back. “He’s my best friend and I was sad to see him go, but I’m more than happy to have him back,” said Moller. “When I found out he was coming back I started crying because I didn’t expect him to come home for another four months,” said Moller. I’m surprised he’s back home and also very glad. I didn’t think he’d be back until the summer,” said junior Molly Lenehan.
Senior Jason Nordheim is glad to have his “Owie Bear” back. “I was surprised he came back, I thought he was having a great time,” said Nordheim. Junior Dan Ortega is really glad to have Owen back and is happy to get to see him in person again. “I was so surprised that he came back, so I literally was freaking out when I found out, because the last time I had talked to him he seemed like he was having a great time and I didn’t think he was going to come back before he was supposed to,” said Ortega. “I’m really happy that he’s back where he belongs and I like seeing him everyday,” said junior Sarah Bear, who agrees with Ortega .