In my senior year Existentialism class, my teacher, Ms. Workman, introduced me to the existential extraordinaire Albert Camus. In The Plague, set in the French-settled town of Oran, Algeria, Camus describes a scene in which the main character, Dr. Rieux, and his friend, Tarrou, momentarily escape the plague-stricken town for a breath of fresh air at the seaside. Camus describes:
“For some minutes they swam side by side, with the same zest, in the same rhythm, isolated from the world, at last free of the town and of the plague. Rieux was the first to stop and they swam back slowly, except at one point, where unexpectedly they found themselves caught in an ice-cold current. Their energy whipped up by this trap the sea had sprung on them, both struck out more vigorously” (Camus 257).
In The Plague, and moreover according to many existential thinkers, the ocean is emblematic of the unrestrained freedom that we, as humans, have to define ourselves. Similarly, in the view of thinkers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre, as human beings our existence precedes our essence. We have the power, and the privilege, to form our own sense of identity through life-defining projects and endeavors. Uninhibited and without predetermination, we are empowered to make choices. Embarking on a gap year with Global Citizen Year is one such immense “project”; I know that my time in Brazil will shape me as I widen the lens of my perspective and become a more globally conscious person. I also know that the experience will not be facile; as challenges and obstacles present themselves, I must only strike out “more vigorously” and emerge from the experience with fortitude and the strength to overcome setbacks.
I feel liberated by my decision to take a gap year. I have the whole world before me to explore. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became: what better time than a bridge year between high school and college to see the world? Throughout my life, I’ve sought educational experiences outside of the typical classroom. From my innovative high school, guided with the vision of preparing students for the challenges of the future, to the junior year of high school that I spent abroad in Italy, traditional is not a word that I would use to describe my upbringing. Partaking in a gap year certainly fits my nontraditional plan.
Finally, I’m drawn to this opportunity with Global Citizen Year in correspondence with an existential concept conveyed by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche conceives of an idea called eternal recurrence. Eternal recurrence, in short, is the idea that “this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more, and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you—all in the same succession and sequence.” I think that the idea of eternal recurrence is extremely empowering as Nietzsche asks, would you make the same choices that you are making now and shaping your life in the way that you are doing now if you were to make the same choices and life-defining actions over and over again? I am so passionate about travel and the self-exploration that occurs therein that I know with certitude that I would choose to embark on a gap year again and again.
I feel so lucky to have had such amazing adventures in my short eighteen years. Yet I don’t like to think of my experiences as the result of fate—rather, I like to think that I’ve taken the initiative to create these opportunities for myself. The taste of diverse cultures—from journeying to Israel in a culminating experience of my Jewish education to backpacking the Swiss Alps to venturing on a year abroad in Italy—has rendered me craving even more cultural exposure. I long to travel the world, to see unfamiliar landscapes and meet foreign peoples, to learn unaccustomed languages, to breathe the fresh air, to swim in the sea. I feel empowered by the endless sea of possibilities, and am eager to dive in.