College Decision Day (One Year Later!)

It’s crazy how much can change in a year.

I began my senior year of high school as your typical overscheduled, overstressed, and overworked student. I was president of the National Honor Society and Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper. I played the flute in my school’s band and soccer for my travel team. I was taking a bunch of AP classes, I was perpetually sleep-deprived, and I was struggling to maintain some semblance of a social life. Maybe you’re this student as well.

As so many high school students are, I was hyper-focused on one thing: my college acceptance. I mean, isn’t that what you’re supposed to have worked towards for the past four years of your life? Hell, I felt like it was what I’d been working towards for my entire life! I researched schools across the country and did all of the campus tours and information sessions. By the time September rolled around, I knew what university I wanted to attend, so I applied early decision.

I can still remember my college acceptance like it was yesterday. My anticipation built as I opened my laptop and logged in to my online portal. Suddenly, my computer began blaring pep band music, and I discovered that I’d been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania! My dream school! I was completely ecstatic, and I felt like all of my hard work had finally paid off. It was like this huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I wanted to hold onto this feeling forever because for the first time in my life, it felt like instead of trudging through the tunnel, I’d reached the light at the end.

But then life went on, and I was still an overscheduled, overstressed, and overworked high school student.

I’d finished one tunnel, but I found myself in another.

Senior year is filled with so many fun distractions, like spirit week and homecoming and prom; I barely even noticed that my enthusiasm about college was slowly fading. By the time my friends started to get accepted into college, my enthusiasm had completely dissipated and was replaced by anger. All of my friends were so excited to go to college next year. Why wasn’t I? I worked just as hard. I did everything I was “supposed” to do. And I was accepted to my dream school!

Why was I so mad and upset?

At first, I thought I’d chosen the wrong school or that my excitement had waned because my acceptance day was so long ago. But when I finally took the time to listen to how I was feeling, I realized one simple truth: I didn’t want to go to college…yet!

Like most of my classmates, I pictured entering college eager to learn and to take advantage of all the opportunities that came my way, but I knew I wasn’t there. In fact, I felt like I was on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. By the end of high school, my endless hours of studying and constantly jam-packed schedule had left me burnt-out; I found myself losing interest in many of the extracurricular activities that once brought me so much joy. I needed a break to rejuvenate my desire to learn and to get excited about my future again.

I’d heard of gap years before, but I never even considered it as an option for myself. It wasn’t what you’re “supposed” to do. High school, college, graduate school, job. That’s the path that leads to success. At least, that’s what I felt like I’d been taught for my entire life. Nowhere in this failsafe plan was there time to “waste” a year. I didn’t realise how valuable this “time off” could be. How could I when everything seemed to inform me otherwise? Nevertheless, despite society telling me that I needed to go straight to college, my curiosity got the better of me, and I started exploring online. What do I do if I’m not ready for college?

And then I found it…Global Citizen Year! I knew that if I was going to postpone college for a year, I wanted to do something meaningful where I could learn and grow as a person. Global Citizen Year fit the bill, so I applied online. I quickly received an interview and soon found out that I’d been accepted into the Ecuador cohort of the program. My first choice!

While I was excited about my future again for the first time in months, I honestly didn’t think much of my acceptance into the program. Again, this wasn’t what I was “supposed” to do. Society was telling me that I needed to go to college in the fall, and frankly, I didn’t think I had the guts not to listen. However, even with all this pressure to fast track my life, I just couldn’t imagine myself going to college in a mere three months. I needed more time, and I decided I was going to make it for myself.

By finally taking a risk and standing up to what was “expected” of me, I made the best decision of my life!

For the past seven months, I’ve been living in Ecuador with a host family, learning Spanish, and working at a therapeutic center for kids with special needs. The Farinangos have made me feel like I was a part of their family from the minute I set foot in their home, and they have introduced me to the vibrant, indigenous Kichwa culture through ceremonies, holidays, and traditions. We also end every night laughing around the dinner table! Furthermore, so much of my joy here in Ecuador is derived from the incredible children that I get to work with each day. In addition to helping out during therapy sessions, I also plan a monthly event for students in Ibarra to encourage an inclusive learning environment.

Sometimes, I can’t even believe that this is my life! While most of my friends have been studying for finals, I’ve been hiking volcanoes, swimming in crystal-clear oceans, meeting so many interesting people, and learning the entire time.

Each part of my gap year has taught me lessons that I couldn’t have possibly learned in a college lecture hall. My Ecuadorian family has taught me true selflessness and the importance of community, my language learning has helped me to gain a more cultural perspective of the world around me, and my work at the foundation has improved my self-confidence and patience.

Most importantly, my desire to learn has been rejuvenated, and I know that I’ll walk onto campus in the fall as a more prepared student, ready to work for what matters to me. My excitement for my future has been reignited with a new passion, not to take on the world, but to embrace it!

Therefore, as you all approach your own college decision day, I encourage you to take a step back and examine how you’re feeling. Are you really ready for college? Do you feel burnt-out or tired? Or do you just want to take the super cool opportunity to explore the world and yourself? Even though it may be difficult to admit to yourself, if you’re in any of these situations, I implore you to take a leap of faith and apply to Global Citizen Year. College may be what’s expected of you, but that doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for you! I’ve seen firsthand that this program can do amazing things for all types of people. Never in a million years did I think I’d take a gap year before university, but I’m so thankful that I did. College will still be here when you get back. I promise! So please take a chance on something a little crazy, and I know you won’t regret it.

Be bold, be confident, and be unexpected. It’ll make all the difference!

Here are a few of my favorite photos from this year!

A photo of me at the top of the Imbabura Volcano. I still can’t believe that I climbed to the summit of the 15,190 foot peak!

The parents, children, and employees of the foundation where I work, coming together to raise awareness about specials needs at a local parade. What a fun, memorable day with the beautiful Imbabura Volcano in the background!

My host family and I at the opening of my host dad’s art gallery. I’m so thankful for my huge, extended Ecuadorian family!

My friends and I exploring the city of Cuenca. Traveling in Ecuador is always an adventure!

Another intern and I during a therapy session. Working with the kids is my favorite part of each day!

A photo of me learning to make Químbolitos, a traditional, Ecuadorian cake-like pastry cooked inside of a banana leaf. YUM!