Are you taking a gap year?

Salome Valdivieso - Senegal


April 20, 2019

For everyone thinking about taking a gap year in a foreign country:

If you are taking a gap year make sure your baggage is full of expectations. So then you can break them along with all prejudices built by single stories. Only then you will start being surprised rather than only expecting.

A gap year it’s not only and necessarily a volunteering experience.

You won’t have a job that everyone was needed you specifically to do. You will assist someone else in a job in order to learn about everyday realities. If that’s not exciting enough for you, maybe then a gap year is not for you.

No, you are not going to change the world in seven months, neither save someone’s life. If you think you will be the savior of a “third world country” maybe you should focus first on breaking your white fragility bubble. If you are not ready to learn the hard lessons of your own life and to realize that your privilege comes with someone’s else lack of it, then you may not be ready to take a gap year.

No, you won’t do extraordinary things every day. Some days you will just stay at your house and enjoy your host family’s company. Just looking at each other with a little bit of awkwardness because you may not be able to have a conversation in a foreign language just yet. And if that is not amazing enough for you, maybe a gap year in a foreign country is not for you.

You won’t find yourself, neither change your life out of the sudden because you moved across the ocean. You won’t be a superstar. Your gap year won’t be validated by how many likes you have in your Instagram.

You won’t be completely independent because remember your parents are who pay for you the privilege to take a gap year.

You won’t be happy all the time. Because sometimes you will miss home. And sometimes you will wonder if taking a gap year was the right decision.

You won’t always have a positive impact. Independently of your good intentions, you will reinforce (white) stereotypes and you may not even realize it. Sometimes you will be a salesman/woman of a democracy that is far from the reality in your host country. Beware of it, because you may romanticize poverty, gender inequality, and injustice, in order to justify what your “develop country” has done to us.

Sometimes you will judge your host community and narrate a single story without even realizing it. And you will recreate power dynamics build by history. And then you should remember that curiosity is the key to understanding. You should remember that our(host) communities have suffered enough through history, so if they are opening the doors to privileged teenagers eager to discover the world, at least what you should do is to put the effort into understanding the (our) culture.

“None is aking you to apologize for your ancestors. I am asking you to dismantle the systems of oppression that they built, that you maintain and benefit from” – once I read.

You will indeed meet amazing people, and eat extraordinary food, and see landscapes that you have never even imagined. However, all of that is included in any tour package. What makes you different (what should make you different) is the fact you are there not only there to wander around. You are there to learn. To learn from cultures that have been undermined by “the new era” of the millennials (because maybe our GDP is not high enough?).

You are there to learn from countries that have found their way through colonization. To learn from people that have resisted neoliberalism, dictatorships, and colonization.

To learn how to break the single stories about the exoticism of our lands and our women, because the world has already made out our cultures another painting in the European

museums.

If you are taking a gap year to be ready to leave apart for one second your privilege.

Be ready to see beyond your phone and your camera lens.

Be ready to be an active member of a family.

Be ready to do domestic work or any other work that members of your host family do because you aren’t more special.

Be ready to be responsible for the actions you take because someone else will be affected by them.

Be ready to hold yourself accountable, because no one else knows you as you do. But also be ready to stop being so self-center all the time.

Be ready to open your eyes to a world bigger than yourself.

Be ready to break your mental barriers.

Be ready to see beyond that history class about colonization and economic development.

Be ready to learn that you are not always right.

Be ready to see that people can be happy without all the consumeristic trash that you buy every day (because they/we don’t need it, still yet we believe we do).

Be ready to not have our balanced diet, or have all the delights you are used to, because maybe then you will learn how ineffective food transportation is causing famine and malnutrition.

Be ready to be deaf and mute for the first month, maybe then you can learn how to hear something else than your own voice, also you may learn that communication goes beyond words.

Be ready to learn the difference between neocolonialism and globalism, even though sometimes they go hand by hand, and even though we call ourselves global citizens, it is not always done in the right way.

Be ready to feel ashamed of humankind and how it’s brutally has created inequality among people who don’t deserve it.

But be also ready to feel proud of the actions of those who see beyond their capacity.

Be ready to emancipate yourself of mental slavery, because yes, colonization didn’t only affect us.

If you are thinking about taking a gap year, I advise you to reflect upon the whys, because that is what will keep you moving. If your whys are as superficial as more university opportunities, improve your CV or another check in your bucket list; then you may have to reconsider moving for 7 months to a PLACE OF PEOPLE and not only landscapes.

Because people are what truly keeps me resilience in my gap year.

My gap year has been meeting extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. People that have truly become my family and part of my heart. So if you there taking a gap year and you end up hurting them with your privilege, taking advantage of their hospitality or just trying to survive while you go through your existential crisis, acting like none else matter, then maybe: you shouldn’t take a gap year. But on another hand, if you are full of curiosity and empathy and you are ready to learn from the world that surrounds you, knowing that education goes beyond a classroom and acknowledging that diversity and cultural understanding is a key on peace movements then, you are ready to make out the world your home.

Love,

Salomé

Salome Valdivieso