A Shock to the System

Winson Law - Brazil

October 25, 2011

After 13 years of schooling, nothing could have prepared me for my arrival in my new community, Morro do Chapéu, for six-months. Brain-melting quantitative physics tests, school-wide performances of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and freezing cross-country meets have prepared me to meet the challenges of academics, art, and athletics. I could complete practice problems, practice in front of a mirror, and train long distances for all of those things. But here, a seven hour drive from Salvador in the mountains of Bahia, I have faced immense and important personal challenges. Challenges that I couldn’t have prepared for in a classroom, dance studio, or trail.

On a rocky cliff right outside of Morro do Chapéu.

Upon arrival in Morro do Chapéu, almost every part of my life here sent a shock to the system. The vegan habits of my host family, their youthful age, their perspectives on the world, and the seemingly disconnected facets of my apprenticeship completely surprised me. I was unsure about how to fit these unexpected puzzle pieces into the greater picture of a meaningful, life-changing bridge year.

In reaction, I slipped into a downward spiral of depression, homesickness, and disappointment that I’m still recovering from today. I couldn’t say minha mãe (my mom) without choking up. I cried after reading my mom’s encouraging emails. I got caught in mood swings that left me confident one minute and disgruntled in the next. I had trouble digesting the food. I conjured negative emotions from frequent nightmares. I considered using my emergency ticket back to Salvador and getting on the earliest flight to Seattle to just end the suffering. I relied on the household internet to keep me connected. But realizing that I couldn’t waste these six months wallowing in pain and agony, I decided to take steps toward maintaining composure and happiness.

I reached out to everyone I trusted for support, hoping that they would assure me that it would all be okay. I wrote to Abby Falik, who advised me to be patient and kind to myself. I wrote to Conor Farese, who gave me his word that my gap year would change the way I approached college. I spoke to my fellow Fellows around the world, who all said that we were all going through these rough times together. I spoke to my mom, who assuaged my fears about not being able to see my grandparents again. I wrote to my RA at my semester school, who told me that I was on my Epic Journey – an Odyssey. Although loved ones would always be there for support, ultimately, personal growth and the end of suffering must come from within.

Right now, I am persevering through my own Epic Journey. Even though I’m not sailing home from the Trojan War like Odysseus, I will encounter Sirens and Cyclops of my own. Every physical, mental, and spiritual fiber will be put to the test during these six months. I need to confront my own personal obstacles and muster the strength to overcome them. This harrowing voyage, which I would have never encountered without leaving my personal comforts at home, will be ingrained in who I am, what I can do, and how I see the world.  I can’t perfectly imagine who I will be in April, but I can take each grueling test as one nautical mile towards that awakening, life-changing, and glorious destination.

Winson Law