In the months leading up to my gap year with Global Citizen Year, there was a lot of preparation that had to be done. From doctors appointments to visa paperwork, my summer was full of various tasks that got me ready for these next 8 months in Ecuador. One of the most important (and stressful) items on my to-do list was packing.
The process of packing was hard in very unexpected ways. Every item I placed in my suitcase prompted many what-if questions and worst-case scenarios in my head. This wasn’t the mindless vacation packing I was used to.
I started with a gift for my host family (this is where the over-thinking began). I dragged my mom to various stores in my hometown, stressing over what would best represent where I come from. I’ve been told that one of my host brothers likes soccer, so I decided to get him a shirt of a local team. But what if the shirt doesn’t fit? I bought my host sister a nice but simple necklace in the shape my home state. But what if she’s not into jewelry?
After some point, I wasn’t sure what I was accomplishing by asking all of these questions and second guessing myself. The days I spent curating the gift for my host family were representative of the anxiety I felt about moving to Ecuador. When it comes to details about my host siblings’ likes and dislikes, as well as what this year has in store for me, I need to be comfortable with the unknown.
The next packing category I tackled was clothing. In Ecuador people tend to dress formally and conservatively. I wouldn’t consider my own personal style to be super grubby or particularly scandalous, but after speaking to some GCY staff, it was determined that my running shorts and tank tops wouldn’t make frequent appearances in my outfit cycle.
Where I live, people pass me on the street and don’t think twice about it. But knowing that I will look out of place if I wear something as simple as a pair of shorts really had me thinking. I started to think about other ways in which I will stick out from the crowd in Ecuador. From my blonde hair and blue eyes, to my multiple piercings and tattoos, to my pale white skin, I began to dread my new life as an outsider.
But the process of packing wasn’t all stress and anxiety. The experience was also incredibly exciting. I committed to the GCY program about a year ago, and filling my suitcase with my belongings made the whole thing finally seem real. The long awaited “gap year abroad” will become my reality in only a few days!
But, the question of “are you ready to go?” is hard to answer. In theory, yes. My suitcase is packed, my passport is in my back pocket, and I have a flight that leaves tomorrow. But preparing for a gap year abroad goes beyond the items you bring and whether or not you have a visa. Being emotionally prepared for this experience is key.
Emotionally preparing to leave your hometown, your friends and family, and the life you’ve known for the past 18 years is not something you would think to add to a to-do list, but trust me, it’s important.