Dear Applicant (The Veil Lifted)

Dear Applicant,

As you make your way through the grueling Global Citizen Year application process, I’m sure you are faced with many questions. One of the biggest questions you might be asking yourself is, What will it be like? Everyone you talk to will have something to say about this question, whether they be your family, friends, or even Alumni of the program. But I’m sorry to tell you that whatever you hear has a very good chance of not applying to your experience at all. My hope is that through reading this blog, you will be able to come away with the only completely true answer to that consuming question.

First of all, I want to commend you on making an amazingly brave, intelligent, and quite honestly daring decision to apply for this incredible program. Having shown up to my first day of training less then two months ago, I can tell you that I am already not the same person I was when I left home. I have seen things that I had only dreamed of. Just yesterday morning, I walked along the Ecuadorian coast, warm sea water running over my toes, while I collected fully intact conch shells and marveled at cliffside tide pools, teeming with life. In the early afternoon, I hurtled through dense green coastal jungles on a road that winded past small communities of homes on stilts and innumerable fruit trees. In the early evening, that same road burst out of the jungle and into the breathtaking Andes mountains. As we flew past towering peaks speckled with small family farms with the sun setting over the horizon, I listened to the voice of Michael Franti in my headphones singing “I’m Alive!” and marveled at the year I chose to live.

I’ve had amazing times like this, but I have also spent days locked in my room, missing friends and family, wondering if I made the right choice being here. When I’m scaling a mountain or playing guitar for rooms full of Afro-Ecuadorian children, life is good. But when I’m so sick that I can’t leave the bathroom, or realize I have done everything I can think of and it’s only 10:00 am, seven months feels like a loooong time. It seems strange looking back to the times when I lay in my bed in Southern California late at night watching past Global Citizen Year Fellows’ capstone presentation videos on YouTube. It all looked so incredible: the beautiful sights, humble villages, and smiling faces of the locals. It seems only natural that a picture of the year ahead was imprinted into my mind, whether I wanted it to or not. But the thing is, I felt deceived. It wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, intended by the creators of those videos, but a product of my own expectations. My subconscious created an idea of what a “Global Citizen Year” is, but as of now, that term seems foreign to me. One of the lessons I’ve learned most rapidly upon arriving to El Juncal is that there sure is a lot of time between the highlights. Oh ya, and just a heads up, inspiring background music, like you hear in the promo videos, doesn’t usually play when you’re doing mundane tasks in Ecuador, but even when it does, you can bet it’s not in English.

This year is an adventure, but so much of the adventure is not occurring with my host family or at my apprenticeship. The biggest adventure I am experiencing is taking place in my heart, mind, and soul. I am hacking through jungles of self-exploration and struggling to swim against currents of stark realizations. I am searching for pools of cool water in desserts of boredom and discomfort, only to realize that the only water for miles is the bottle I forgot had been in my backpack all along.

If there is one thing I wish I knew before I started this year, it would be that the lessons I have been learning about humility, social entrepreneurship, leadership, and poverty are dwarfed my the lessons I am learning about myself. That is not to say it would have changed my urge to apply… it actually might have increased it, but there is a lot more to this year than meets the eye. I am so excited for you, as you ponder taking part in an incredible year of growth. My only caution is this: remember that when you ask that question, What will it be like?, seeing and hearing about the highlights of others’ journeys could lead to misaligned expectations when you arrive in your community.

So here’s my only completely true answer to that question: I have no idea, you’ll just have to wait and find out!

Best Wishes,
Bennett Quintard