An interview with Ploy Kongkapetch, Ecuador ’16, Luther College
What have you been up to since your bridge year?
I am a freshman at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. I’m double majoring in International Studies and Spanish.
What is a favorite memory from your Global Citizen Year?
My Global Citizen Year involved a lot of kids. My apprenticeship was at a local primary school where I worked as an assistant teacher and sometimes as an Arts and English teacher for 2nd graders. I had a really wonderful relationship with my students an with my two host brothers (ages 5 and 7), but not with my host cousins. I spent a lot of time at my host aunt’s house, and she has four sons aged from 1 to 10 years old. Seeing that my host cousins didn’t seem to like having me around was really confusing. I asked myself a lot of questions about what I could have possibly done wrong, since most of the time I work very well with kids. They all go to the school I was working in, but they would never say hi to me or acknowledge that they knew me at all.
One of my goals was to really push myself to get to know my host cousins. By the end of my time in Ecuador I had reached this goal, but it was from a completely unexpected situation. It was during the carnival time, the youngest boy, Anthony, was playing water balloons with the rest of the boys. I was sitting there and wasn’t sure if I should join. My host brother asked me if I want to play, and I said that I don’t like balloons. The rest of the kids were surprised to hear this, gave each other a look for a second, and then they all started to attack me with the water balloons. I started to run, they followed laughing, and as simple as that, we bonded.
Later that day I rememberer having the smallest one on my lap when we were watching television, and the rest of them wanted to sit next to me. Just the day after, when I went to work. I was in my classroom during the break when 3 of them came to say hi and give me a hug, I was so happy and it was one of the best days I have had in Ecuador. We maintained the relationship until the end of the program. They would run to me every time I visited them and walked me to the door when I had to leave, the smallest one would wave at me until he couldn’t see me. They are all so young but yet I learned so much from them. They didn’t dislike me, it’s just that I was new in their family, and they don’t understand the concept of hosting. At first I was just a random stranger that they didn’t trust. This wall took some time and a lot of effort to destroy but it was so rewarding for me to go beyond that wall.
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Are you still in touch with other members of your cohort or other Global Citizen Year alumni?
The connections I made during my year with the fellows is something that I am truly grateful for. Global Citizen Year has changed my perspective as whole, thus it was not easy for me trying to transition back to where I called home after spending so much time in my community in Ecuador. It was difficult sharing my experience with people back home and trying to make them understand. However, the fellows really provided me the support I needed. The friendships I have right now with the fellows is something that I really am thankful for. We don’t talk everyday but when any of us need to talk, I surely know that they will be there for me.
Looking back on your Global Citizen Year, what part of your experience has had the greatest impact on you and why?
I was struggling a lot trying to immerse myself into the community, but I knew I was supposed to be struggle in order to see what the community has to offer. Global Citizen Year really pushed me to be outside of my comfort zone, which was really impactful to me; I can never grow inside of my comfort zone. My last week in my community showed me how far I’d come since the first day I arrived. This place was so new to me then, I didn’t know anyone (and everyone would look at me because I was a stranger, and looked different). I didn’t know how to get home, I didn’t know where to get off from my bus, I was so uncomfortable being there.
However, during my last week in the community, I could simply close my eyes and map out the whole community correctly. I would walk downtown and everybody would say hi to me, and most of the time start a conversation. The place where I first thought it was so hard to be in, so far out of my comfort zone, had become the place where I felt I belonged and felt so comfortable just being in. I had managed to transition myself from that position to another. This had the greatest impact on me because it reflects on how open-mindedness and willingness of being outside of one’s comfort zone, which Global Citizen Year is passionate about, are truly the root of growth.
How has taking a bridge year impacted your college and/or career experience?
I honestly can not imagine myself coming to college without my Global Citizen Year experience. It has helped me so much in almost every aspect in my daily life. I learn, because I want to know, not just because I have to. Global Citizen Year also allowed me to explore myself which later led me to the decision of majoring in International Studies and Spanish, which was something I had completely no interest in before I took the bridge year. It is fascinating how much Global Citizen Year experience has impacted so much of my life, I would have been doing something completely different if I had said no to Global Citizen Year.
What do you think a bridge year abroad contributes to an education?
Definitely the new perspective. This is important because we usually know that other perspectives exist but do not truly understand and respect them. By spending time to really get to know another culture and try to learn from it helps us to see the world differently, not only through other people’s words and the media, but really through our own eyes and experience. Absorbing and learning new cultures also requires the advanced skill of perception, which is a crucial skill that contributes to the education in this increasingly diverse world.
What would you say to someone who is on the fence between going directly to college after high school and taking a bridge year?
Take a bridge year! It was so far the best decision I’ve made in my life and it’s unbelievable how impactful the year was for me after I completed it. I felt like I left the program as a new person. I let Ecuador be my classroom and I let everyone I met be my teachers, I learned from them and I was truly engaged into each lesson. There is no better time to explore and learn about yourself and the the world than the year after high school and before college. You will maximize the benefit of going to college and take the full advantages of what college really has to offer.
Because of my Global Citizen Year, I am… living in the moment.
Ready to start your own adventure?
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