Finally, My Explanation

Rosie Fitzsimmons - Ecuador


September 17, 2014

At the beginning of the year, I had my mind set on making the more practical choice and going to community college whilst living at home. Now I’m going to be living in another country for the next 7 months.

Nowadays the huge expense of college has convinced our generation that no time can be wasted. If you do not go straight to a four year university – and even so, if it is not in the top ranks – then you are considered a failure and will not amount to as much as someone who did. American culture is very insistent on comparisons. Even in Oakland, which is renowned for its diversity and is home to people of different backgrounds who may have been raised with different values, kids still seem to think there should only be one clear-cut answer and any other decision is incorrect and final. There is no such thing as just having to take just another step. That’s it. You failed. We have been brainwashed that prestige is the only thing that matters, putting our own well-being and happiness to the wayside, and remaining ignorant to the fact that some of the most profound learning occurs outside of the classroom and through trial and error. I understand that it is good to have direction and aspirations, but I do not believe life is a straight path, and in exploring all these different avenues I come out on top.

The only reason I ever applied to universities was on a whim. Although I didn’t work as hard as I definitely could have in high school, my mother convinced me that I worked hard enough to at least be curious about where it could have gotten me. It was only until the intense pressures of the decision deadline became true that I realized that although I had strength enough not to be influenced by prestige, I was still letting myself base my decisions solely on other external influences.  Financial restraints and the responsibility not to burden my family blinded me from my own well-being and happiness. I had been babied at home for 18 years, it was time for me to experience a new environment and new perspectives. It was time for me to finally grow up and take responsibility of my own life.

During my trip to Nepal, the first day on the worksite was the most immediate shock to my system. I was still trying to adapt to the humidity whilst also trying to keep from blowing my back out from only a half hour of intense shoveling. Meanwhile, a sixty year old villager worked alongside me accomplishing the same task much more effectively. It was humbling to say the least. My eyes had been opened and I was able to stand back in awe of how the entire community – men, women, and even children – came together as one to do their part in support of what they knew was vital in bettering the community for generations to come. Some of the local schoolchildren walked miles every morning just to go to school. At my school, kids freely cut class to go smoke in the bathroom or look for ways to get suspended, seeing it as an authorized vacation. Upon returning home, it was all the more clear how twisted these values were. I recognized that my own education was too priceless to take for granted, as well as many of the other luxuries of my life.

I would often travel over to my neighbor’s frontyard where many of the local adults and schoolchildren met, and talked with the adults or played soccer or volleyball with the congregation of kids. I have never felt so welcomed and appreciated in my life; you could not walk down the road without being greeted and thrown a huge, heart-warming smile by every passerby, and on these nights in our neighbor’s yard, we would be talking and relaxing one moment and the next someone is bringing over a speaker from another household, laying down a tarp, dressing us in traditional skirts and saris, and the entire village has suddenly gathered around expecting us to keep up with their spirited dancing. Despite the many hardships they are forced to endure and the luxuries they must go without, the generosity and genuine happiness and compassion I witnessed in these people remains unparalleled and irreplaceable. It was contagious; I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was solely focused on the present, so encapsulated by the beautiful culture and people around me, that I had learned how to view the world from their perspective, and all now irrelevant stresses suddenly melted away.

However, immersion works both ways – we always focus on our experience when surrounded by a foreign culture, but when we’re thrown back to our motherland we are in the same way forced to adapt back to the majority culture. Plus, although these values became immensely important to me, 8 days is not enough for them to become permanently instilled in who I am and strong enough to withstand the pressure of adapting back to my native culture.  When stressed and overwhelmed I tend to shut down or avoid my responsibilities altogether. I start off my year with ambition and commitment but in the end I become lazy and do not live up to my full potential. It’s crazy how much a teenager has to worry about nowadays: SAT/ACT scores, AP exams, homework and grades, community service and extracurriculars, college applications, financial aid, a job, deciding upon a future career, and all other family or social complications. After being babies for so long, this all comes on so fast and at the same time, it feels like you suddenly have all these huge responsibilities and decisions to make out of nowhere. It made me absolutely terrified of adulthood and I resorted to retracting into my shell, choosing to internalize everything. I pushed adulthood away and instead committed to the bare minimum. I abandoned the sense of well-being I obtained in Nepal, letting stress consume me instead of remaining positive and happy, and I lost those learned values of taking advantage of my own education and giving back to create more community. That’s not me. I am not weak. I have values. I do not want to stick to the bare minimum.

Yes, I know I can always do study abroad, but it’s not the same, that’s not the point. It’s one thing to be consumed in academics and live in another country simply as a tourist. But it’s another to actually be a part of it all. I want to learn and experience as much of the local culture as I can, and museums barely scratch the surface. I want to live alongside my family so I can gain a deep understanding of the common challenges faced from those who have experienced it and dealt with it firsthand their whole lives, something I could never fathom otherwise. Most of all, I’m very interested in creating these deep personal relationships that can last despite oceans or borders, even if it is through their understanding and support when I am challenged to my absolute limits.  

I do not expect to change the world, but I do expect a world of change in myself.  I hope to learn that in order to be productive and achieve what I am capable of, I need to take accountability for my own actions and goals. I can no longer allow my self-motivation to wane and then use excuses for why I was unable to get something done. I need to learn how to be proactive – I want to genuinely appreciate the concept of seizing each and every day. However, I also want to learn to embrace Equa-time – where things tend to move at a slower pace and less may be accomplished in a day than gringos have come to expect. I hope that in this next year I become aware enough to discover the proper balance between the two, so that I am satisfied and feel I have taken proper advantage of this opportunity, but I also do not feel unhappy or purposeless when I am not constantly busying myself.

Although organization is a good quality, I allow my brain to think too logically, and when that structure and sense of security is shifted in the smallest way, I freak out and break down. It’s surprising I ever believed I was courageous enough to even apply to Global Citizen Year considering one of the largest focal points of the program relies so heavily on ambiguity. I committed to Global Citizen Year having no idea where exactly I would be going, who I would be living with, and what I would be doing. As a high school graduate you are inherently bombarded with questions about what steps you are taking toward your assumed-to-be-decided future, and when I had no real answer the expressions I got in return were often of confusion or concern. Of course, I can’t blame anyone considering I was feeling the same exact way inside – I have no shame in admitting that I was absolutely terrified. However, throughout my short time here so far, one of the lessons that has resonated with me the most is that the future does not actually exist, and in preoccupying our mind with what may or may not be, we miss out or corrupt what we should be fully aware of in the present. Although I can say that with such confidence now, not only accepting, but embracing ambiguity is far easier said than done. By the time I return, I hope that this skill has been instilled in my everyday mindset.

Anxiety is often a self-perpetuating monster. I know that despite all the self-improvements I intend to make, there will still be days of emotional turmoil. I hope that during these times I will learn to be aware of my emotions and embrace them for what they are instead of letting them perpetuate and drive me insane. Of course, I do hope to become stronger and that less overwhelms me, but that when it does, I learn to look towards solutions and can bring myself out of it better. In summation, I hope I will have gained the confidence in myself and the resiliency to conquer all my future goals.

It all sounds so selfish, I know. But how can I expect to be a leader and make a real change in the world one day if I can barely manage myself. I realize just how extensive this list of expectations is. But I have complete faith that Global Citizen Year provides the proper framework to challenge me to my ultimate limits and make all my aspirations possible. I can’t wait to look in the mirror in 7 months.

Rosie Fitzsimmons