Realizing I Wanted To Reject Conventional Higher Education for a Bridge Year in Ecuador: A Decision In 3 Acts

I’ve spent the last two years criticizing conventional education systems whenever I got the chance. Give me a prompt and the opportunity and stand back as I rant on and on about the not-so-subtle class discrimination involved in standardized testing or the ineffective nature of the ‘memorize and regurgitate’ method needed for the majority of formal assessments. Needless to say-I’ve been frustrated. Even though we (students) reaffirm to each other, and ourselves, that numbers don’t define us and that we are so much more than just a grade, the aftermath of any results day reveals the immense pressure put on us to conform and achieve in a system that fails us. 
Growing up in China, I was immersed in a culture of kumon and private tutors. My friends crumbled under parental pressure in primary school and it was an unspoken rule that your fellow classmates were peers-but also competition. My parents were Scandinavian/Italian and very much content with any of my efforts-as long as I tried my best. As a result, I have always been very aware that any pressure or ‘need to succeed’ I have felt has been self-inflicted. I am a product of my environment and at an early age, my environment taught me to find solace in an A* and peace in success. 
In my senior year of highschool, that ‘success’ didn’t feel as rewarding anymore. 
After a lifetime (given, a short one) of priorities that Ron Weasley himself would have disapproved of, I truly did need to sort them out. 2 years in the International Baccalaureate program had dulled the sparkle of a ‘7’ and the satisfaction of completing any schoolwork. When your thrills come from meeting deadlines-you know it’s time to reevaluate. Although I was applying for universities, my options were open. When I stumbled upon Global Citizen Year, I finally found something to be excited about. This was a different kind of thrill!
My family have always been travel junkies. I grew up exploring South East Asia, finding home in alphabets I couldn’t understand and accents that didn’t fit on my tongue. South America, however, has always felt like a world away. The promise of a Spanish-filled 8 months enticed me, luring me to Ecuador and the chance to experience South America for the first time, ever. 
I don’t pretend to be going to Ecuador solely for the sake of ‘helping’ locals there-as that borders dangerously close into ‘white saviour’ territory (and that’s definitely not what I’m going for). Through my apprenticeship(s), I would like to develop a greater intimacy and connection with my local community and I hope to be a tool for those in my community to use. I know I have a lot to learn from the people I will be lucky enough to spend this year with, all I can hope is that the impact I do have is positive and that I can share some of my life experiences with them as well (if it doesn’t get lost in translation through my broken Spanish). 
I mentioned that my previous successes didn’t feel as rewarding anymore. This year, instead of tending to the symptom, I want to reinvent my whole outlook on ‘success’. One dimensional grades don’t cut it anymore. Instead of numbers, I want to find success in the smiles of people around me. In a new skill. In throwing myself into my stretch zone. Sometimes, I might even find success in just being. This bridge year, I want to explore the small and few successes that make life that much more livable. Peace out. 

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