HOME: Like an astronaut among constellations

An Ecuadorian skyline is seen in this submitted photograph. (Submitted: Reinaldo Cascante)

Engines ready. Belt fastened. Thrusters standing by. Beginning launch in 3 – 2 – 1.

It was 2019; COVID-19 did not exist. The future was hopeful and thrilling and I knew who I was, or so I thought.

Back then, I remember being nervous and excited the first time I took a plane to Canada — a spaceship, as I called it.

As an international student, you arrive at your destination with hopes and dreams, quite different from any other student. You are ready to bring everything you’ve got — you have the desire to learn and make yourself known. You want to make all the experiences you had back home with your family, friends and culture into something new. To see yourself among the stars, among the infinite constellations of possibilities, only for life to surprise you and hit you right in the face.

Before coming to Canada, I thought I had my fair share of life experiences, enough to make me aware of my own feelings, relationships with people and living situations.

Being stuck away from home for two and a half years made me put everything I thought I knew about myself inside a new dynamic.

The statues of Simon Bolivar and San Martin de Los Andes are seen in this submitted photograph. The pair led the independence of Columbia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. (Submitted: Reinaldo Cascante)

It might all sound gloomy and unbearable when you hear someone like me describe what they are going through, but there are some good parts of the experience.

There’s laughter, growth, love, companionship and a relatable community that is there to listen. There are some good people, some helpful people and there are some you wish you never encountered, but it’s alright.

I was able to finally land in my motherland, Ecuador, this past holiday season. Friends and family asked me how it felt to return after so long. My answer was always the same.

Just like a spaceship coming back to Earth after visiting another planet. Just like an astronaut stepping on high ground to find that his home has not changed, not entirely at least. Oxygen feels lighter. Gravity is not as strong as it was on the other planet you’ve lived on for more than 24 months. People have changed since I last saw them. The same dishes I cooked in Canada, trying to remember the taste, are 100 per cent better when home. My eyes get watery with every familiar action that I do.

I am Ecuadorian. I will always be proud to be Ecuadorian. But returning home can make you feel so out of orbit.

Reinaldo Cascante sits with a statue of Juan Pueblo, a cartoon representation of the residents of Guayaquil, Ecuador. (Submitted: Reinaldo Cascante)

When I first landed in Canada, I thought I carried my home, my family, my culture and my self-love inside of me. The trip back became a reality check for me.

There’s conflict. There are tears. There’s joy. 

You realize while sitting in your childhood bed that you are not a kid anymore and that everything that happened to you, every action that you took to get closer to those stars, to the endless constellations — they changed you.

I saw my mom running to me at the airport and my dad crying every time he looked at me. I saw my siblings in a new light and my nephews happy to see me back.

You finally feel your warmth return. You run through the same streets that saw you grow up. You feel the warm breeze on your face and suddenly all the work is worth it, the sleepless nights studying, the countless ramen noodle soups and every doubt you had.

I was home.

Now I am back to the place I call “my new sun.” I am both the child that wanted to go to space and the adult that lives in it. I have no idea what the future looks like or what constellations I’ll find, but I am sure there’s a place I can always go back to if needed.

There are still hopes and dreams to catch.