Our next post in the series offers insight from new 2011 alums in Boston and New York, reflecting on everything to the role of structure in their Global Citizen Years to what it really means to get your feet wet.
One of the most surprising things for me this year was that was able to take this whole experience into my own hands. I had worried that this wouldn’t be an option since I was part of a program. But it turned out that the level of structure Global Citizen Year provided was just right – not too much, and not too little, just enough to give us the support we needed, and the freedom to explore.
Meeting with the Fellows for our Training Seminars once a month was so important. These meetings gave us an opportunity to connect with eachother – and of course, to speak some English which was always a welcome relief after living only in Spanish. After each meeting we would go back to being independent in our communities for the next month…but the time together was like fuel.
The opportunity to be independent – and supported at the same time– allowed me to make the experience my own. It made this feel like my real life, my own time, my own year.
Before finding Global Citizen Year my gap year plan had been to go out on my own with a back pack. Looking back I can now see how much I would have missed by myself! Having the other Fellows with me was such an important part of my experience – they helped support me, encourage me. They helped me digest my experience.
I didn’t realize how dramatically my sense of myself would change through this experience. After the year, I have new understanding of who I am now, and a new commitment to who I want to become. The experience wasn’t just about understanding the world, in the end it was about coming home to a new understanding of myself.
When my parents first talked to me about Global Citizen Year I was so skeptical. I remember feeling like, “Why would I go to a developing country for a year when I have this clear, set path all ready for me? I can graduate, go to college in the fall like all of the other kids my age…” So, yes, my parents had to nudge me into this…but today, I’m very grateful.
I flew to Ecuador in October and I was thrown out of my comfort zone in every possible way from the language, to the food – guinea pig is the local delicacy – everything was a total shock.
One day at the school where I worked, the teacher said we weren’t having class; instead we were going to do a minga – which means service for the community. All of the kids were handed machetes and saws and were asked to clean up the area behind the school.
Growing up in a private school in New York City where we were barely trusted with scissors, I was traumatized to be watching 10 year olds cutting down trees with machetes. At first, I ran around trying to wrestle the blades out of kids hands. But the teachers stopped me and said, “They know how to chop down trees, just let them do their thing….” I said ok, ok, and eventually found myself going with the flow. At the end of this afternoon we were rewarded with a beautiful garden – that had been the effort of the kids to make such a beautiful thing…out of machetes!
So I like to think of this anecdote as a metaphor for my Global Citizen Year. I went to Ecuador with no idea what to expect. I was in a place and culture that was so far from anything I’d grown up with – and today at the end of this experience, I can’t even begin to express how much it has changed me and how incredible it was to be rewarded – after some very hard work – with a metaphorical, beautiful garden.
A short walk from the community where I lived this year in Brazil, there was a river. It was common during the hours of 12-4pm to spend hours here cooling down, but it took me a long time to get to the point where I felt happy and comfortable being at the river.
I remember my first day at my homestay, my younger brother invited me to the river to play. When we arrived, I was puzzled why someone would ever want to come here to spend hours surrounded by animals, bugs, dirt and mud. This was not a relaxing place, or a place where I ever thought I would spend any time – let alone take a bath in the brown water.
At home in the Bronx, I was the type of girl who didn’t allow people to sit on my bed with their “outside clothes”; I always carried a toothbrush, and commonly carried a bottle of perfume because I liked to make sure things smelled good. So imagine, this: bathing in a dirty river. Definitely not my thing.
In Brazil, things slowly began to change. Eventually I followed my friend back to the river, and he convinced me to get my feet wet, but I knew that was as far as I was going.
Until a few more weeks passed and I started to get this feeling that if I was really going to be a part of my new community I had to go further than dipping my feet. So one day I went by myself to the river, and took a bath – by choice, and by myself. And, just like everyone had said, it was pretty refreshing.
So, I share this story not to just tell you about a girl who took a shower in a river, but to let you know that a girl who was so concerned about germs, and being clean, who had been sensitive to the smallest stuff, went out of her comfort zone to challenge herself.
And today, I believe this is what life is about. If we just stay confined to our comfort zones we don’t really get the full experience of life. Life is about having adventures, surprises and challenges. And it’s in these challenges that we get to see ourselves grow as people, and to surprise ourselves with the things we are actually able to do – if we just take that first step.
I end this story with a wish for everyone: find your river and don’t just stop by getting your feet wet. Get in the water.