During the period in which many of my peers are buying textbooks, I am zipping up suitcases. During the summer when my friends lounged by the pool, I hastily studied a new language. They admire the all-you-can-eat campus dining halls, while I marvel at the eight-month visa that currently sits in my passport. For the years I have lived in parallel to all of these people, it has only become apparent now that we are living in radically different timelines.
Yet, there is one key difference that dispositioned me to make this decision, rooting from my great passion for learning about world cultures. My childhood growing up in a Chinese family provided a foundation for me to analyze the distinct folklore, festivities, and food beyond my nationality. In grade school, I read voraciously about anything relating to geography, after discovering my teachers did not teach the subject in school (at one point, I even competed at the Massachusetts state level of the National Geographic Bee). In high school, I took two foreign languages (Spanish and French), led my school’s global advocacy club, and further expanded my world view through short international exchanges to Ecuador and Denmark. As I progress to a new life at university, taking a year off to live in another part of the world only will strengthen my commitment to world citizenship. As foreign a concept that taking a gap year is to most Americans, to me, it only seemed natural.
Why Brazil? It would seem intuitive to choose Ecuador again, given that I already speak Spanish and I have a exchange friend there. In addition, I would be located in completely different city, so there should plenty more to experience.
However, I have always loved the thrill of pushing myself into unfamiliar territory. And there was Brazil: an expansive frontier that distinguished from the rest of the continent in not only its language and landscape, but also, its story. To me, the name Brazil connotes a vast, exotic, yet intriguing mystery. A mystery that I am more than excited to discover during my year there.
The American poet Robert Frost wrote about those “two roads diverg[ing] in a yellow wood” and his decision in taking “the one less traveled by”. For me, I had already confronted with that fork in the road: splitting between going straight to university or deferring to explore the world. I had already chosen my path: living in a land whose language I do not speak and people I do not know, yet also finding a way to contribute that society. Yet, what remains to be answered is the difference that it will make.