Living College in the Stretch Zone

By Hadiyah Grubish (Ecuador ’15, University of Georgia)


It’s been just about a year since I returned from my Global Citizen Year in Ecuador. Those 8 months I spent learning a new language, forging new connections, stepping out of my comfort zone, and experiencing the world around me were months of growth, challenge, and discovery. I was able to identify my passions. I was given exposure to life outside of my little hometown bubble. I was lit on fire with a purpose and a drive that I had never known before. It’s been just about a year since I returned from my bridge year in Ecuador and I’m sitting in my college dorm room trying to keep that fire burning in this new environment.

This time last year my daily routine included cooking breakfast with my host mother, playing with monkeys at the park, teaching adorable little kids English, and maybe heading to the river with my sisters for a quick swim before dinner and homework. Now, my daily routine includes grabbing a banana from the dining hall as I rush to my 8AM, sitting through several general ed classes with 300 other students each, heading to work for a few hours, grabbing a quick dinner, studying till 1AM, and then catching a few hours of sleep before I do it all again. Adjusting to the difference between the two ways of life has been a lot harder than I expected it to be.

Much like the way high school felt like a race to college admissions, I’ve found that college can sometimes feel like a race to the job or the career. “Take this specific schedule of classes if you want to graduate on time. Get an internship during summer of junior year at the very latest if you want to get a job at the end of senior year. Study abroad so you can show that you’ve experienced other cultures. Hold leadership positions and be involved in clubs and organizations to prove that you are capable and to show that you have interests outside of school. It’s probably a good idea to get a part time job too because college is expensive and plus, it shows time management skills! Don’t forget to eat well, go to the gym, and get at least 8 hours of sleep too because your health is important. Get out and socialize; college is supposed to be the best time of your life, make the most of it and have fun. But don’t have too much fun because you still have to study so you can graduate on time and get a job.” Honestly, sometimes it seems simpler to just follow the crowd as they go study for tests and do it happily because the better they perform and the harder they work the better the job and the more money they stand to receive at the end of their four years. It’s all so clear cut for them.

But having taken a Global Citizen Year, I’m not interested in this race to the finish. I’m not getting back on the treadmill because I know it won’t take me where I want to go. What happens after the job? After the six figure salary, house, car, kids, and retirement plan? What next? Is that it? This summer I read a book titled Roadmap by Roadtrip Nation. Amongst the fill in the blank exercises and motivational quotes, there are pages upon pages of people asking themselves those exact same questions. People who followed the college path, got the job, achieved “success” and at the end of it all they were left unhappy, asking themselves “what now?” Stories of people from all different walks of life confirming my fears, that somewhere on the college-to-job path they lost their passion and purpose.

Instead of taking this standardized path, I want to forge my own path through college that feels meaningful to me and the life I want create. I want to take my time, take classes and build connections that will equip me with skills and knowledge to pursue my passions and make a positive impact in the world. I want to get my hands dirty and really see the impact a forgotten, polluted lake on the edge of campus has on the community. I want to build relationships with underrepresented groups in my county that don’t benefit from the enormous amount of money that the university brings in and hear their stories. I want to reach out to the international students that struggle with finding a sense of place thousands of miles away from their homes and be a friend and a shoulder to lean on when the distance doesn’t seem worth it. I want to live and learn purposefully. I want to figure out how to best apply my skills and passions to the real world and create impact.

Sometimes it’s hard to stay true to my path when I’m overwhelmed with homework or pulling all-nighters, but looking at the big picture has proven more useful for me than just taking it day by day. Taking this Spanish class is going to help me strengthen my grammar skills so that I can better communicate with the communities I want to work with. This economics class is going to teach me some of the basics of how markets work and help me understand how money flows in our society. This history class is going to teach me why the political climate in South America is the way it is. Being involved with clubs and organizations that interest me and that work towards a goal or an ideal that I’m passionate about has helped take some of the monotony away as well. Through involvement with these groups, I’ve met amazing people, worked on amazing projects, and made some amazing memories.

This first year in college has been it’s own brand of culture shock. I’ve struggled with finding my purpose in this career driven environment. I’ve struggled with staying true to my passions while being surrounding my viewpoints that differ. I’ve struggled with adjusting to traditional education after having such a hands on personal learning experience. I still don’t have the answers and I’m not quite sure what direction I’m headed in but I am learning lessons and building relationships that are going to impact me for the rest of my life.

It’s been just about a year since my bridge year in Ecuador and I’m continuing to live my life in the stretch zone, and keep my passions and purpose burning.