When I was younger, and I got a new journal for a birthday or Christmas, I would flip through the blank pages and wonder about what I would write about, what the future held. I am getting a similar feeling now. I can hardly believe that for the first time in my life, I am not going back to school this September. Instead, I will be moving far away from my little hometown. I will experience a whole new way of life, a whole new language and a whole new culture. I will live with a new family and spend my days working on something I care about.
My friends are all dorm shopping, figuring out the costs of their books, and checking their emails constantly for the information about their rooming. I can’t help but feel a little left out. I only know a few other kids who decided to take a gap year. It is a less popular route, but for me, the decision was easy. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my life is how valuable exploring a new culture is. It all started when I took Mrs. Murray’s World Cultures class. I realized how much there is out there, and I was anxious to explore on my own. When I got the chance to go to Cambodia last summer, I was ecstatic. My time there taught me so much, and made me realize things about myself. For instance, before I left for Cambodia I had such a strong expectation of what it would be like. But everything I was expecting of Cambodia, a “third world country,” was wrong. On the second to last day before I returned home, our group was driving around Phnom Penh. I was staring out the window, looking at the homes, the dirt driveways, the markets, the people. And I realized something that makes me ashamed, but I will share it anyways. I realized that when I first got to Cambodia, when I looked out the window, I didn’t see people. I saw Cambodians. I saw that they were different than me. Their skin was different, their language, their clothes. The world they lived in was different than mine. I didn’t understand them, so all that I saw was our differences.
But the friends I made in Cambodia, and the family I stayed with, changed my mind. I learned about their culture, I learned why things were the way they were. And instead of seeing the differences, I noticed the beauty. I noticed the kindness of the monks, and how dedicated my family was to Buddhism. I began to appreciate bargaining, and had fun practicing my negotiating skills. Most importantly, I realized that Cambodians are people just like me. The prejudices I had were proven wrong. And even though I had read all about Cambodia, and learned as much as I could, what really made me understand the culture was the time I spent there.
So, choosing to go to Ecuador was easy. I know that my time there will be challenging, and I know that it will be much harder than moving a few towns over and attending college. But I also know that I will learn, and grow, and by the end of the year I will understand more about Ecuador, about myself, and about the world. I will be one step closer towards becoming a global leader.
The most exciting part for me is this is only blog post number one. There are many more to come. The year ahead of me is a blank journal, and I can hardly wait to fill the pages!