Rethinking the purpose of my gap year

Aniska Bitomsky - Ecuador


October 17, 2019

As you guys know the situation over the past few weeks in Ecuador has been everything but pleasant. Without wanting to go into too much detail, the president cut the subsidies on fuel, protests broke out, public transportation strikes prevented any normal routine from happening and the indigenous were marching. The chaos of the country and the effects on my city and life (which I explored in more detail on my other blog) meant a lot of free time for me. I generally woke up at nine or ten and ate breakfast about an hour later. After that the day was pretty much empty, on some days I couldn’t even leave my house, so I had a lot of time to do “inside” things. Chilling and having a lot of time in the beginning was great. I could read books, in fact, I managed to regain my concentration and attention span and read a 500 page book which is a first for me since the IB. I had time to binge watch Gordon Ramsey videos (don’t ask why, no idea) or finish one of my shows on Netflix. I had time to write more than one blog post per week, go on walks with my host family in the afternoon, do yoga and workouts. All great ways of relaxing and spending what Global Citizen Year loves to call “down time”. Having so much time to do whatever I wanted within the house was also quite the opposite of my last three years with the IB on my shoulders. 


When I was reading my first 500 page book and the author was voicing a specific thought about the capitalist model, I suddenly felt inspired to apply that thought to one of my own thoughts and draw connections between the different topics. The last time I was inspired like this was during the preparation of my workshop for the inequality special focus day of my college. The book, by the way, is called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Reading this book, feeling inspired by its perspective on capitalism and connecting it to sustainable development reminded me of something that had wandered to the back of my head for the past few weeks. I am going to study sustainable development in London after this year. Sustainable development is something I am passionate about. People who read my first blog post will probably remember that this passion was the reason I chose this gap year in Ecuador. I wanted to collect practical experiences which should prepare me for my uni course. Finding back to this intention made me reflect on my life in Ecuador from a very different perspective. I was working in a tourism office and learning photography and editing skills which was great and one goal of mine. I was having fun with friends and fellows. I was learning Spanish and connecting with my host family. The past week I had been reading, relaxing and enjoying my free time. All great things which, however, weren’t really connected to my original intention. Was Shelby Davis (who is funding my scholarship) really spending 24 000 USD on my year so I could watch Gordon Ramsey videos? 


That afternoon I must say I was overcome by a feeling of despair. I began researching environmental organisation close to me and soon had to realize that either my Spanish or my formal training in environmental affairs were insufficient, there were no youth groups of international environmental NGOs or I did not have enough time to commit to the expected extent due to my other work or spending time with my host family. Being completely honest, for some time on that afternoon I even thought about leaving the program because I could not find the purpose of the next sixth months and instead doing something which related more closely to my original intention. 

When I woke up the next morning the world still looked a little grey, but I had kind of decided that leaving the program could not be the answer. Neither could I do that to my host family, nor my friends here and I was using my time usefully regarding more temporary goals like learning Spanish or photography. I was not fulfilling what I for now defined as my life’s purpose, but I decided that maybe I was thinking about the whole purpose-fulfilling thing in a too straightforward way. While I am not gaining any practical experience in sustainable development in the Andes region of Ecuador (I guess I chose the wrong program for that and I admit I should have given this choice a lot more thought before settling for one program), I do have something here which I didn’t have at UWC and probably won’t have at LSE: time. At UWC I always wanted to watch that lecture on global leadership in the age of sustainable development, read that article about the future of population growth or do that online course about natural resource management. However, the deadline of the Internal Assessment in Bio was more important and after that the deadline for the written task was coming up or I just wanted to spend some time with my friends. So, I kind of decided to use the next sixth months in Ecuador not only to develop my Spanish skills but also do all these activities I never had enough time for. To read that book in which early economists predicted the development of global population growth and its limits. To do that online course about technocentrism in finding solutions for global challenges and its moral implications. To do my best to prepare for uni, to develop a basis for all the knowledge I am going to gain in my course, to be more informed about basic underlying economics models, literature and attempts of solutions currently discussed. 


Now that might sounds like a great solution to my current lack of purpose, yet one thought is still bugging me: Shelby Davis (and my parents for a matter of fact) are paying a lot of money for me to sit in front of my computer in Ecuador and do research. I could have just as well done this back home. Sure, I’d be lacking those skills I am learning here, but in the end they don’t add to MY purpose. Or do they? Maybe speaking Spanish and being able to take good pictures will be super helpful in a future job I take on. Maybe they won’t. But would I really have done all this research back home? Would I have had or taken the time for this? And being honest, no way I would have stayed sitting around at home for a year. So is the conclusion of this thought process that I chose the wrong gap year program and am now trying to make the best out of it? I don’t know. However, even though I am atheistic, I have come to believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe I am on the right gap year program and the reason why this was the right one will reveal itself to me in a couple of months or years. At the moment I do not know whether Global Citizen Year was the right decision or not, but regardless of the answer I am here now, I am not going to leave and the only option I am left with is making the best out of it. I will ask my personal supervisor whether she knows of any practical options to get engaged for me which could work. I am going to try to create a strong basis for my uni course. I will try my best to make this a purposeful experience for me because I can not disappoint my lovely host family (and I do want to learn Spanish). 

I am adding this lat section a couple of days later. I found a sanctuary for wild animals which are victims of, for example, hunting which also offers a volunteer program for international volunteers and organizes other projects around environmental education or practical conservation. As it is very close to the city I have Spanish classes in, I am going to ask whether I could help out once or twice a week. If volunteering there turns out to be a realistic option, I am going to be more than happy.


I know this was a quite wordy post again and also quite personal, but this has been the predominant issue occupying my mind and I didn’t know what else to write about which would be significant. If you’d rather enjoy a blog post with pictures, check out my other blog: https://aniskaontour.wordpress.com/

Hasta luego!

Aniska Bitomsky