I took this gap year to grow and to develop myself as a person in the ways that matter to me. In so many ways, I am doing that. I can’t count the number of lessons I’ve learned and realizations I’ve had. However, as the year wears on (almost five months already), the things that I set out to do have fallen through the cracks, the enthusiasm and curiosity I came in with have faded, my productivity has dwindled, and there are days where I call my purpose here in this country into question.
This is normal. As humans, we reach high and set ambitious goals for ourselves, and seek out opportunities with intention. As we enter new environments and situations, we experience a “honeymoon phase.” And as time passes, so do motivation, drive, and purpose. That is just the way it is. And it’s been the case for me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m lazy or staying too much in my comfort zone or not cut out for this kind of intense leadership experience. Maybe. But I also realize that the feelings are universal, and that highs and lows come and go like the wind, for even the most ambitious and persistent of us.
It’s worth noting that taking a gap year isn’t a walk in the park or a piece of cake like many people think it is. The experience comes with challenges and tests. Adjusting to a new environment. Having to learn to accept ways of life that are different from the ones you’ve grown up with. Opening your mouth and not knowing how to express what you want to say. Being independent far away from the comfort of your parents’ home. You are essentially putting yourself in a position where you learn to solve problems and overcome challenges, because of necessity, because you must.
With that being said, taking a gap year doesn’t automatically and suddenly transform you into a better person, or at an arbitrary moment, change you from a child to an adult at the snap of your fingers. Because experience without lesson-learning is futile. Transformation, maturity, growth, and personal development take work. It takes initiative to go above and beyond. It takes patience to power through hardships. It takes curiosity to ask the questions that will allow you to learn. It takes time and effort to reflect and to ponder the impacts of the lessons all around you.
I think it’s high time I reminded myself of the intentions I set coming in, when I was still a terrible French and Wolof speaker and when I was still in the honeymoon stage. I wrote a “vision statement” in October, a little over a month into my time here in Senegal, and now, as I enter my last (!!!) couple months here, I want to spend every day with that renewed interest and a refreshed mindset. Because my time is finite, and it shouldn’t be spent not learning lessons.
I believe in empathy and connection. By April, I will have developed strong and genuine bonds with my host family, the people I work with and the kids I teach, and people in my broader community. I will be better able to understand their perspectives and lifestyles and become nonjudgmental of those. I will have utilized tools such as language-learning as a bridge to that ultimate goal of friendship and understanding. In addition, I will have discovered a sense of belonging within my cohort communities and I will be intentional about kindness and active listening, and more aware of the impact the way I act and what I say has on others and their emotions.
I believe in intellectual curiosity. I will stretch my mind out of its comfort zone. The left brain and the right, the front and the back. I will show enthusiasm to learn about the topics brought up at my apprenticeships, the geography, history, politics, economics, and general societal context of Senegal, the issues I see on the news, and, of course, the languages and culture.
I believe in making the most out of experiences. I have been given this opportunity to be here in Senegal, and I intend to take advantage of that 100%. By April, I will be fully present with no distractions or other worlds holding me back, and I’ll be okay with that. I will recognize and seek out opportunities within this opportunity to reach my goals and grow as a person. I will be deeply immersed and ready to take that experience back with me to America, and leave a part of it in my heart.
I believe in reflection and deep thought. I will have questioned the status quo, the way things and done and the way I do things. I will take a step back from the go-go-go of the experience and reflect on what I’m learning and how I’m feeling, whether it’s through writing, thinking, talking, or just passively taking in the multifaceted beauty that surrounds me. I will allow my takeaways to guide me, to pave me a path, to push me like the tide.
I believe in exploring new habits and lifestyles. I will be willing to try new routines: morning routines, nighttime routines, all-day routines. I’ll actually try healthy habits that I’ve always intended to do: write or journal, exercise, breathe. I will (re)discover what methods of self-care work for me and what kinds of things I like and don’t like to do. I will find a new relationship with the passage of time.
I believe in the power of having an identity. I will gain a new perspective of how I, as an individual, fit into my community in Senegal and into my community back home. I will analyze the role of my gender, race and ethnicity, hobbies, religion, and any other aspects of my identity that I’ve never thought about before but pop up while I’m here. I will find a sense of place in this world.