Choice and Belonging

Trina Olsen - Ecuador


October 6, 2015

I wrote this blog two days before I left for Ecuador, but didn’t feel ready to post it yet. Now, it is October 5th and I feel ready to share it.

Finding and choosing where you belong after high school is difficult. For my entire life, the place I’ve spent the majority of my time “belonging” has not been an optional place– as this place has been school.

First, I went to preschool, and then elementary school, then middle school, and finally high school. I am lucky; I felt like I belonged all throughout school. Some things that helped me belong are: I grew up speaking English and only English, like most people in my city. My skin is white like the majority of the people that live in my community. My parents raised me surrounding me with many other white, middle class, educated people who I easily fit in and belong with because these types of people are easy to come by in Madison. I haven’t had to deal with any major life struggles that separate me or make it significantly harder for me to belong from all the people that are around me. I’m privileged and lucky to be privileged and very thankful.

During my senior year, I had the choice for the first time in my life to choose where I belong. I applied to 10 colleges and 2 gap year programs. This summer, I applied to two more colleges because I just don’t know where I belong anymore. I don’t know how to choose where I belong since it has always been chosen for me and I have accepted it.

Weirdly, with all my confusion and indecisiveness about choosing a college, choosing to take a bridge year with Global Citizen Year was quite possibly the clearest, easiest and quickest decision I’ve come to in my life. I think this is mostly because my inner dialogue when making the decision to choose GCY went something like this: “If I don’t know where I belong as far as college goes, why don’t I not go to college right away, and just go somewhere I’m guaranteed to not belong at all?”

It scares me that I could choose a college and decide that it was the wrong choice because I don’t feel like I belong there (as this has happened to some of my friends)…but it is so much less scary to choose to go to a place that I know I don’t belong, because I’m okay with that.

As I hugged my friend Samantha for the last time before parting our separate ways- she to college in Massachusetts, me to Ecuador, she said “it super weird isn’t it? us leaving?” and I didn’t really respond. I just kind of stared at her because I didn’t think it was weird. This is what I’ve wanted for so long. I’ve known I’ve been doing this for the past six months. It makes perfect sense. I think to many other people and my other friends, leaving and going our separate ways feels strange and uncomfortable and different. And it is (the tiniest bit I guess). But mostly, I’m so so so ready. I’m ready to leave and be far away from all my used-to friends and my familiar, routine life. It’s not that I don’t love my friends dearly and feel so lucky to have them and it’s not that I don’t enjoy my ordinary, comfortable life in Madison with my family…it’s not any of that. It is that I have graduated high school and now I’m doing something else that’s not high school, which for me is a bridge year. I’m ready to experience so much more.

I know that I’m going to have days in Ecuador where I feel so incredibly out of place– but that’s what I signed up for and that’s exactly why I’m doing it. As for college, it’s quite the opposite. I’m signing up for college in order to belong. And not belonging and shelling out an insane amount of money to not belong is a little terrifying.

I trust that when I return, I’ll be more comfortable with choosing a college because I (hopefully) will feel like I can belong anywhere, so choosing a college won’t be so scary.

Trina Olsen