Almost all of my life, I’ve felt older than I actually am. I watched my sister and brothers before me grow up and leave the house to explore the world as adults; and, finally, by the time I was a senior in high school there was nothing that I wanted more than to leave the plastic houses in California behind and create myself anew.
I had dreams of traveling swift with the breeze, meeting life friends in a night, and never having to deal with the constant nagging of regret on my shoulder. The only issue was, these dreams weren’t a reality. My severe drought of a global perspective did little more than produce a fairytale ideal of the world around me. I was, without a doubt, a complete ignoramos on all things outside of Trump’s absurd wall. See, I knew a decent amount about the culture around The United States, yet practically all the information I had about life in foreign countries — especially those “less developed” than mine — was either insufficient or just plain wrong. My creativity of other cultures lacked the genuine textures of life, and I was painfully aware of it.
A while back, somewhere in my teens, a day arrived when my imagination fell flat. Up until the end of high school, my experiences were so linear. I mean, of course I had moments experiencing every emotion, traveled to stunning cities across the world, and engaged in a wide range of hobbies, but I felt like every other pair of jeans and T-shirt that sauntered around in Berkeley. In hindsight, my emotions were young and ignorant; my travels lasted for a few days, maybe a week; and my hobbies consisted of activities I was both good at and felt comfortable doing. I was hollow and colorless. I could feel that something was missing inside me, something that neither a college nor a job would satisfy. I wanted the world to slap me silly, sweep me up like a tornado and crash me down. I needed to live.
The choice to take a gap year wasn’t difficult for the usual reasons. I knew I wanted time away from memorizing dates for three-page tests, only to repeat the cycle again and again every week within a caged classroom. It was time for me to climb mountains, converse with strangers, wander through markets, and experience all the fruits of this life as a baby in the world of adults: I craved to do everything that had nothing to do with school.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is huge value in the classical education system. As a youth, school provides the grounds to develop a social life, participate in athletics, and begin to make sense of the world around you; it teaches you how to listen, think critically, and be efficient.
While the knowledge acquired in a classroom isn’t necessarily false, it’s incomplete. There’s more to learn than what can be written on a whiteboard or read in a book. Life experiences are a form of education as well, and after 13 years of schooling my wisdom spanned from how to solve math problems to how to get out of detention (worth noting: I was far better at the ladder). I was left with a limited scope of stories because I spent so much time at school working and at home working, that I never fully figured out how to live and be myself. I was defined by my accomplishments and followed that which was all around me. I was a lost sheep among other lost sheep, disconnected through confusion and in need of revival. Then, a mysterious path beckoned me to break the chains from my feet so that I could finally walk the earth and subsequently encouraged me to take the mask off my face so I could truly see, hear, smell and talk. This path was a gap year.
Choosing to go with “Global Citizen Year” was a long process that required me to think seriously about what sort of experience I was seeking. I spent significant time investigating other programs and asking myself internal questions about the potential tangible and intangible takeaways. Fortunately, the qualities of GCY that I found most appealing turned out to be some of the most rewarding aspects of my experience here: living with a family in a small town away from the city, submerged within an unfamiliar culture and language for seven months. These factors, however, are simply the groundworks to encounter experiences of such beauty and excellence, like those I have found here. They are the vehicle — the mere blueprint — of my stay, which opened my eyes, bestowed me with courage, and humbled my spirit. Needless to say, this has been a once in a lifetime adventure that has forever changed me. And finally, for the first time in a while, I actually feel my age.