Gap year? WTF?

Jensine Raihan - Ecuador


October 2, 2016

I was sitting in my friend’s eccentric, beautiful, simple, and fresh aesthetic, literally “apartment GOALS” living room. It was a nice, warm Sunday afternoon in late April and we were doing a girls’ day in Brooklyn. I was with my sister, a year younger than me, my ever-since-middle-school best friend, and two of the raddest women I love and work with. They were helping me make a decision:
“Where do you want to be next year: NYU or Macaulay Honors City College?”
Feeling mentally exhausted and frazzled, with my eyes furrowed I exasperated, “Neither–I want to go to Ecuador!”
It was that time of the year when millions of young people receive acceptance letters and have to pay a mandatory deposit fee for a program or school they are committing to once they receive their GED or high school diploma. I was running out of time and had to make a decision.
Although this year has been filled with so much joy, relationships, opportunity, and learning it was also my first time dealing with depression and anxiety particularly in school. In my mind, there was no way I could go to college with the level of academic exhaustion I incurred in the past four years. I had no interest in learning in a classroom. I was not enthusiastic about going to college as I always have been in the past. A heavy, dark conscience in the back of my mind gravely warned me about going straight to college without properly dealing with my depression and anxiety as it relates to academia.
The level of competition and apathy of the world that comes with going to an elite school composed of mostly middle-class students (whose primary concern is to get the highest grades possible) and my own lack of interest in enthusiastically participating in that culture and seeking proper support led to a downward spiral in my academic success in high school, particularly in my senior year.
But gap year? Who the hell does a gap year? In my mind–and in the mind of most people in my community–you either go to college right after high school or you don’t. You get a job and never look back on academia again. Gap years were for rich young people who had parents having the means and will to spend money on trips and programs for their children to travel and explore the world while “giving back” (*ahem* voluntourism). I am not from a background where that is common and I did not want to participate in neoliberal voluntourism.
For me, Global Citizen Year did not strike me as voluntourism. I still don’t completely know if it is voluntourism now. I probably won’t be able to tell you until April. But I do know it was a very abnormal decision for me. Coming from a working-class background it seems so odd and irrational to be taking a year off–not working, not studying, but being 3,000 miles away from home, family, and responsibility. I am the eldest child in my family and it seemed very irresponsible and selfish to come to Ecuador for 8 months. In the minds of many members of my community, this is time I could be using to work or study so that at some point my family and I are no longer working-class.
In the end, I went with my gut and chose to come to Ecuador because it seemed like it was the best decision for me. In doing so, I had a few goals:
(1) Grow into myself.
(2) Do the things I would not be able to do back home in New York: knit, crochet, sew, make films, make jewelry, and code.
(3) Become fluent in Spanish. This is particularly important to me because, for me, I want to be able to effectively and deeply communicate and understand the people I work with. In my police accountability, racial/immigrant justice, workers’ justice and gender justice work a large part of the community are Spanish-speaking and in order for me to do meaningful work with them I need to be able to actually communicate with them.
(4) Learn from progressive movements in Ecuador particularly the indigenous liberation movement.
(5) Be able to dance salsa and bachata.
(6) Read the 20 books that have been on my to-read list forever.
(7) Regain my enthusiasm, curiosity, and passion for learning.
One of the best part of this journey is the amount and quality of people I get to meet. Here are some photos of the people I met in August:
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This is Pablo, he’s from Chile. Our conversations consisted of the revolutionary Che Guevera, the neoliberal economic policies of the U.S. and other Western countries on Global Southern countries including Latin America that last till this day, and what it means for U.S.-born and other Western citizens to be going to countries that have been and continue to be exploited by our governments.
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This is Valencia, she’s from DC. We bonded and fangirled over each other due to our shared passion for socialism and anti-gentrification.
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This is Karina, she’s brilliant and one of the loveliest person I met on this trip. I appreciated sharing a cozy blanket with her when we were watching a talent show in freezing cold weather.
The best part of this trip is meeting people before their 8-month journey and seeing them once they come back. I am so looking forward to hearing about the journey, adventure, and times of joy and sadness in 6-month’s time.

 

Jensine Raihan