College Ready!

Before departing for Ecuador, I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to
study in college: public health. During high school, I was fortunate enough
to discover my passion for learning about inequalities and injustices
through a series of classes structured around researching global issues. I
threw myself into every project and field trip I possibly could, digging
deeper when finding myself unsatisfied with simple answers. Yet, if I’m
being completely honest, when each field trip or unit ended, I lost a bit
of my spark and simply moved on to the next topic. I am privileged enough
to have gained a bit of global perspective during high school, which
undoubtedly prompted my interested in taking a gap year. Yet, after my time
living in Ecuador, I can say with certainty that had I gone straight to
college, the same pattern would have continued. I would have never found my
burning flame, or realized my love for traveling and learning about other
cultures and lifestyles.

After almost 16 years in the classroom, my Global Citizen Year experience
allowed me to live issues I was only able to read about in high school. For
example, my senior year, our class completed an intense research project on
the crisis in Venezuela. We conducted interviews with journalists
in-country and spoke with countless professionals in the public health
field. Of course, interviewing professionals promoted a stronger
understanding of what was going on, but deep down I craved a firsthand
experience. In some ways I didn’t even know this was missing until my
experience this year in Ecuador. Taking a gap year was something I knew I
needed to do for myself. I knew I wanted and needed to push myself beyond
my limits and challenge myself outside of my comfort zone.

And that’s exactly what I did as a Global Citizen Year Fellow living in
Ecuador for my gap year. I lived with a homestay family in the Southern
region of Ecuador who were kind enough to welcome me into their home. I
also worked as a Teacher’s Assistant in a local preschool with three to
five year old kids, who taught me how to understand the garbled and messy
Spanish language of children. In a way, we grew up together; I learned
Spanish as they did (they were never afraid to correct me) and in return I
taught them a bit of basic English like numbers and colors. My best friend
at the school was Nayeli, my wonderfully sweet three year old student who
sat in my lap every day during recess.

One thing I didn’t expect was how every day I encountered the ongoing
crisis in Venezuela in a new way. I was no longer reading articles from
afar. Almost each day in Ecuador, I met and conversed with Venezuelan
refugees who fled their home country in hopes to find a new, safe
beginning. I partook in conversations with my host family where they shared
concerns for the Venezuelan population, and voiced their fears. As someone
who arrived to Ecuador with simple language skills, it was difficult to
understand politically charged conversations without being able to
effectively and meaningfully contribute my thoughts and ideas. For this
very reason, I am more motivated than ever to begin studying my intended
minor – Spanish for the Professions.

I was living the very issue I studied in the classroom a mere twelve months
ago. Seeing the reality of many crises first hand, I can’t sit idly by,
moving on to the next project or topic. My gap year has not only provided
me with a wider global perspective, but it has motivated me to become more
active and aware of the world around me. Some people say that a bridge year
is a year taken off from learning, but I see it as quite the opposite.
These real world experiences have taught me more than I could have ever
imagined. More so, I am refreshed and eager to begin classes and get on
track to learn how I can responsibly be of service to a world in need. I
strive to fuel the motivation and mindset that was sparked within me this
year, and know that the next chapter of my life – college at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – will help me achieve my goals.