We recently caught up with alumna Mandula van den Berg (India ’16, Bard College Berlin)! Check out her interview below to hear some of her favorite memories from India, her ongoing Fellow friendships, and the impact of her bridge year on her college experience.
Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now.
Right now, I am living in Berlin, Germany. Every morning I take the U-bahn from the colourful district of Prenzlauer Berg to school where I study Politics and Ethics. I work as a Civic Engagement assistant at school, organizing and facilitating weekly language sessions for refugees and students. Recently, I have also started to volunteer with an organization that provides assistance for refugees during their asylum procedure, with a focus on the storytelling aspect of the interview.
What is a favorite memory from your Global Citizen Year?
I will never forget the train ride to Nagpur with my host mother. She had been invited to speak at the university there and she asked me to come with her. So there we were, packed and ready for our fourteen hour train ride across the state of Maharashtra. This could have been late October maybe, and the green of the monsoon had already started to disappear. We sat side by side, both reading, as our train rode through a dusty landscape of yellowish grey, brown and pale pink. Every now and then we would talk, but mostly it was just simple contentment of being together. We slept in the thin sheets of the train company, we laughed at poorly translated names of the train vendors’ merchandise, we ate luke-warm chapati with cauliflower. I wrote in my diary and realized how loved I felt. Yes, I was in an unknown country, an unknown landscape. But right there we were a mother and a daughter, nothing more.
Are you still in touch with other members of your cohort or other Global Citizen Year alumni?
I could have never have predicted how much the other Global Citizen Year fellows would come to mean to me. During my Global Citizen Year I found some of my closest friends and we are still in touch, hoping to arrange a way to see each other again. One of the things I love most about these relationships is that they emerged in a place where we all were so vulnerable. We fell into each other’s lap at a time where we did not really have a choice but to be open. And they still serve as a reminder of this genuineness, this effortless sharing. I love talking to the people who met me when I was going through such a crucial experience, and they remind me to keep discovering, to keep being brave.
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How has taking a bridge year impacted your college and/or career experience?
During my bridge year, I realised the importance of values. For some reason it had never really occurred to me to figure out why I want to stand for what. Carried away by the charm of relativism I had shrugged off questions as to what I believe in. Now I am much less scared to stand for things and consequently I try to follow my values. I became vegan, I protest, I take classes that will give me the tools to figure out how to create an impact. I went from ‘knowing’ to ‘realising’, and right now I am working to turn that ‘realising’ into ‘achieving’.
What do you think a bridge year abroad contributes to an education?
We live in a world where it is becoming easier and easier to stay in your own bubble. Facebook is an echo chamber of your views, your friends all kind of agree with each other. Chances are that your college experience will only reinforce your views even further. All this is so comfortable, so tempting. But precisely because of that it has become crucial to force yourself to go beyond. I believe a bridge year is an opportunity to step outside of your political, social and economical reservation. There is so much to be learned by trying to find your values in a place that disorients you, by trying to find direction in a place where you don’t yet belong. I believe education is first and foremost about learning to ask questions and to listen. And what better way is there than to do that in a place where you won’t ever know the answer beforehand?
How are you continuing to live life in your stretch zone?
I try to push myself with little things and my work with refugees has definitely been one of these. I speak German, but teaching the language has been an entire different challenge. It is a constant game of balancing but I enjoy it, and I try to laugh whenever I slip.
What would you say to someone who is on the fence between going directly to college after high school and taking a bridge year?
If you have ever wanted to be an adventurer, a writer, a thinker, an artist or a lover, there is only one thing to do: close your eyes and jump.
Because of my Global Citizen Year, I am… not merely looking, but trying to see.
Ready to start your own adventure?
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