Navigating a Jungle

Kaitlyn Johnke - Senegal


July 18, 2013

On my trip to Guatemala with the Oakland Zoo, we released two parrots into a mangrove forest. Because they had not been properly rehabilitated, our guides suspected that there was a good chance that the birds would get caught again by poachers. The parrots did not know to be afraid of humans, which was demonstrated when we opened their box and they sat there for a good three minutes. This was because in captivity they had been fed their native nuts and berries by humans. While they would know what kind of food to eat, they would not know where to find their food in the wild. The departure from the island which we left the parrots on was bittersweet.  While they doubtless would be happier, the hope for their continued freedom was uncertain.

Living in one place all of my life and speaking only one language has not prepared me for independence, no matter how many replicas of the real world I absorb through text. When we have debates in the classroom, I’m not sure where I stand in some arguments because I have no background knowledge on certain situations. Going to college with a wealth of real world experience in my possession will allow me to better connect with my education and get the most out of opportunities in college.

Experiences are what shape and teach me. The sudden confrontation of a difficult situation in an unknown place has taught me more than any lecture in a classroom. I learned how to trust myself because in the traveling environment I was inevitably put out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. By comparison, communicating with other people and trusting my own decisions when I got home was simpler. Unconfined by the boundaries of US borders I realized how there is always more to learn. I know that Global Citizen Year will have challenges, and will possibly be even more of a struggle than a freshman year of college. This is what I am looking for. A successful fellow is someone who overcomes these difficulties and comes home changed from the experience. I don’t want to have the same future as those parrots, placed into the world without the knowledge to navigate through challenges. College will not teach me to survive in a jungle, but a bridge year just might.

Kaitlyn Johnke