The beaten path. We can all envision it. We have all encountered it. It is a physical dirt track in a forest, worn bare by hiking boots. But it is also invisible — a societal phenomenon. At my age, the next step on the beaten path is college. However, I have already stepped off the beaten path — not too long ago in fact, at the age of sixteen, when I left my small Midwestern hometown to live at a school in the New Mexican desert with peers from eighty different countries. Fortunate enough to attend this highly international school, for me every day was an opportunity to learn about the traditional celebrations of the Nepali new year, how to say “goodnight” in German, or have my Middle-Eastern peers answer questions about Ramadan. I was fascinated. Departing from the beaten path during high school rewarded me richly. Soon the prospect of college arose. There it was again — that beaten path, beckoning me to its comfort, its convenience, its normality
. Even so, without too much thought, I easily resisted its offerings. I simply no longer required the security it presented.
Instead, I embraced that other path, the one society often spurns and labels “less traveled.” In my case, that path was deferring college and taking a bridge year. To be honest, I am not entirely sure what lies ahead of me on this curious path. I know I will be living in an unfamiliar culture, with a Senegalese family, immersed in two entirely foreign languages — Wolof and French. However, what excites me most is that I will experience firsthand the workings of foreign aid organizations and NGO’s in a developing country — something I have thus far only studied and heard about from African friends. I am still quite uncertain as to the challenges I will encounter and how I will learn and grow during my eight months on the path less traveled in Senegal. However, this particular path has extended incredible learning opportunities and challenges to me in the past, and I doubt its character has changed. Here I am once again, preparing to set out on a path less traveled, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.