If there were one word to describe my bridge year experience so far it would be overwhelming. Adjusting to a new family, job, language, food, climate, and way of life has been incredibly difficult. The continuous highs and lows I experience make me feel like I’m constantly on a roller coaster. The love and support I have received from my fellow Fellows, Team Leaders, and new family/community members make me feel like the luckiest person alive, yet my feelings of homesickness sometimes make me wonder why I’m here at all. Through all of these struggles and difficulties, I find myself struggling most with something quite unexpected. Simplicity.
Thinking back to high school and the crazy scheduled life I led, I remember just wanting a few moments of free time to relax and recuperate. But with social media, more than 1,000 channels on TV, and a constant flow of family and friends I had no idea what it was like to have nothing to do. I was constantly checking my phone, rushing off to my next activity or at least had some sort of work to do. But here, I have found myself truly not having anything to do. I often have a five hour break between my numerous jobs, or end up waiting an hour (or more) for my boss. And when I am working I find myself doing paperwork quite often — seemingly mindless work. I tap my fingers on the desk, waiting for someone to ask me to do anything, just something more.
For some of you, this may seem like a dream. But for me this has been incredibly difficult. What do I do with myself? How do I fill this time to the maximum capacity? I wanted to continue this busy life I had always known. But I have slowly begun to stop worrying so much about all this free time and instead go with the flow. I stop on the street to talk to people and end up having amazing conversations that I never would have had if I were rushing off to my next activity. I walk more slowly to be able to take in the beauty of the mountains, the landscape and life. I eat more slowly to prolong my meals with my family, which I so enjoy. I take time to stop whatever I am doing and just talk to people — something I would have been too antsy to do four months ago.
Although this has probably been the most difficult thing for me, it is a life lesson I know I will be forever grateful for. Being able to be instantly gratified with the touch of a button or even watching the latest episode of a TV show whenever you want wherever you want makes it hard to just stop. But being forced to slow down has made me able to appreciate the smallest things and find joy in simplicity. The things that have stood out to me the most here are small — a hug from one of my students on my birthday, one of the “tough” kids singing me his favorite song in broken english, or one of the “adultos mayors” stopping me on the street inviting me into their house for pan y cafecito. Each of these moments and many more would never have happened if every moment were scheduled. Instead of being frustrated with my free time, I am now embracing it because it means I get to truly live.