Capstone Reflection

Caroline Smith - Brazil


May 28, 2018

Just two days after returning home to North Carolina, I went with Elizabeth (Ecuador '18) and Wyatt (Senegal '18) to Wyatt's alma mater, East Chapel Hill High School. We spent the day giving presentations about our different and shared experiences with Global Citizen year. Most of the students to whom we presented are rising seniors, so what we did felt important in that we were able to introduce GCY to people who may have been sitting in high school, bored out of their minds and wanting to know if something else was out there besides more lectures and tests.

Presenting about my year was valuable because it helped me sit down and think of language to explain my experience and why it matters, but even more important were the questions students asked after the presentation. When I answered spontaneously, I felt like my responses were so much more meaningful and I could see the spark in the students' minds when they imagined themselves coming home after a year abroad, full of new information and questions and inspiration. 
Some questions I was unable to answer off the cuff- "What's the craziest thing that happened to you while you were there?"
Some questions were misguided and disconcertingly common- "So are you fluent in Spanish now?" "But isn't Brazil really dangerous?"
Some questions showed critical thinking skills I wish I had had in high school and really appreciate now- "How does this program avoid going into these countries with the goal of 'fixing' them, and how is this different from voluntourism?"
One question- "Where were you in Brazil? I moved to the US from there two years ago and am dying to go back," lead to an ecstatic conversation in Portuguese, um abraço (which is still a habit I'm trying to break; why don't US Americans like hugs?), and an exchange of Instagram usernames. Before my gap year, I never would have been able to empathize with this girl about missing home and how everyday life can be so mentally and emotionally tiring when you're far away from familiarity, but now I am actually able to feel a small part of her saudades. Of course there is a difference in situations, being that my time away from home had a set end date and hers does not, and mine was my choice while she was relocated due to her dad's job. However, it was nice to talk to someone else who misses Brazil, even though she misses it in a different way.
If even one of the students who watched our presentations takes a gap year and expands their horizons, I will be happy knowing that I may have played a small part in that. Even if all our presentation was to them was a break from class, my capstone presentation helped me make meaning of my experience and articulate what that meaning is to me.

Caroline Smith