Matthew

Ecuador 2006/07 | school program

(TW: homophobic statements)

When I decided to take part in a student exchange in the 10th grade, I was already aware that I was gay. Although those around me in Germany were open-minded, I still hadn't found the courage to come out. Looking back, I am sure that my decision to go to another continent for a year was also due to the fact that I felt constrained at home. The idea of being able to risk a new start in a completely new environment seemed very appealing at the time.

When I was finally in Ecuador, after initial euphoria, disillusionment quickly set in. Things didn't go as well as I had hoped with the host family, and settling into the foreign culture sounded less problematic during the preparations than it then felt for me. Since Ecuador was and is a very Catholic and rather conservative country, the topic of homosexuality played a rather subordinate role in everyday life and in the media. On the one hand, this made it easier to keep quiet about my own homosexuality, but on the other hand, of course, it meant that acceptance and sensitivity were not yet very pronounced.

There was a boy in my class at the time who, according to my classmates, was gay. While this seemed to be an interesting topic to talk about in general, it was otherwise accepted and tolerated. Still, I preferred to stay away from other gay people as I wasn't ready to confront my own homosexuality. Comments from my first host mother, such as “One should cut off all gay men’s penises and then hang them around their necks” didn’t help in this endeavor, of course. However, I also had many positive experiences. The friendships I formed with other exchange students in my city, many of which remain to this day, made many difficult situations easier to deal with.

One of them came from the USA and had grown up in a rather alternative environment. Her many stories about gay friends and my own homosexual experiences eventually encouraged me to open up and tell her I was gay. Although she was the only one I confided in in Ecuador, the fact that I had a confidante helped me enormously to cope with everyday life. When I was happy again with family and friends after eleven months, I slowly began to come out, which was a thoroughly positive experience thanks to my very liberal environment.

A few years later, during my studies, I got a call from Ecuador. My second host mother was on the other end wanting to see how I was doing. Although I was of course happy to hear from her, I was a little surprised, since we usually only speak to each other on birthdays and Christmas, but after a short small talk she got to the real reason for her call: she had heard from corners that I I am dating a man and wanted to let me know that she loves me and that, despite her strong beliefs, I will always be her son.I was very moved by that call. Although she may never understand or fully accept my homosexuality, she reached out to me and showed me her affection and loyalty. It's beautiful to see how feelings bridge the sometimes huge gaps of cultural differences and allow us to appreciate each other despite and because of our differences.


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