Why a bridge?

Jessica Chai - Ecuador


August 7, 2014

At the age of seventeen, my standing in the world looks pretty good. I graduated from high school this past June. I began my first job. I was even on track to attend my dream school Stanford in the fall. So it begs the question: why am I taking a bridge year?

It’s a good question. And when people ask me, I have my response prepared. Well, I would answer succinctly, for one, I will not be eighteen upon entering college. I want to develop leadership skills and gain maturity. I want to make a difference doing impactful volunteer work. I feel a year off will prevent me from burning out in college. I have an intense desire to learn Spanish, understand local culture, taste South American cuisine, learn how to dance. And if I were feeling particularly inspired, I might throw in a line or two about finding myself among the tapirs and toucans in the misty Amazon.

But the truth is, I don’t really know the answer. Entering college at seventeen does not bother me, and while I think I can learn more, I also do not feel underprepared for Stanford. I am already fluent in Spanish and while enticing, exciting and exotic, the prospect of living in Ecuador does not appeal to me any more than spending a year in Portugal or Peru. And although I am growing and changing, I scoff at the idea that I need to discover myself in the mysterious (and mosquito infested) jungles of South America. So at the risk of sounding repetitive, why am I taking a bridge year and what do I want out of it? I don’t really know.

And that is perfectly fine. If I knew what I wanted to do, I would not be sitting in front of my computer at 1 in the morning, trying to write my first blog. If I knew what I wanted to do, I would already be packing my bags and choosing my major. And if I already knew what I wanted to do, that would be more than just a tiny bit boring and presumptuous.

But here’s what I do know. I want to get off the beaten track, to explore, to muck around, to try something different and to waste some time. I want to go somewhere I’m not entirely comfortable being. I do want to make a positive impact in my Ecuadorian community and along the way, maybe figure out how I want to spend my next four years. After being on the prescribed track for seventeen years, I’m ready to jump the train.

So here’s to curious exploration for its own sake. And also fried plantains, because man those things are delicious.

Jessica Chai