Why a gap year?

Marco Barracchia - Brazil


March 22, 2019

Why a gap year?

“Why a gap year?” “Why would you take a gap year and volunteer on the other part of the ocean?” “Why would you volunteer, If you could be paid while working?”

Having lived in a UWC in Norway in the last two years of my education, I realized there was a pattern among Nordic students: taking a year off. Gap yearing was a weird, foreign concept to me, yet a popular decision among my peers abroad. Throughout my whole education I always strived for being “on top of things”, often forgetting about myself. I’ve been adapting to educational systems which valued more the grades I got rather than the person I was. In the schools I’ve attended before UWC, gap year was often synonymous of “missing out”— an unlimited time of pleasure, loss of time and unwillingness to pursue academic studies. Also, having in mind my life goal and the field I was interested in future studies all the way through my high school, I had never challenged the idea of “stepping back” for a while. Despite my conservative educational background, a victim of the institutional failure of stimulating experiential learning over theoretical concepts, the exposure to such idea opened a whole world ahead of me. A previously unknown galaxy which brought me where I am standing today.

Why wouldn’t I take a bridge year which would allow me to take time for myself and return with more resilience, confidence, courage and potentially start college with a more global network and sense of perspective?

Applying to GCY was one of those things you don’t think twice. The process was as simple as that: apply, wait, get in, realize you got in, realize you have to tell your family, realize you’re so ready to leave.

Getting Brazil— my first choice— was rather satisfying: I felt the urge of exploring such a multiethnic and progressive country, getting my hands (and feet) ofter dirty, and reconnect to nature. GCY’s support network, focus on goals and purpose, and the accountability of the stuff gave me the courage of setting goals aimed at personal development. During this year I decided to focus on environmental activism and self-growth through the exchange of experiences, storytelling, self-reflection, and evaluation, adaptation to unpredictable and unconventional situations, UN-learning as much as learning, fluency in a new language and challenge of personal prejudices.

You never see new oceans, if you don’t have the courage to leave the shoreline.

I’ve been living in Garopaba for the past 7 months (a very surfy and hippie town on the southern Brazilian coast), Santa Catarina, living with a local host family, improving my Portuguese, and volunteering with “Progeito monitoramento Mirim”. The socio-environmental project has the purpose to transform elementary school students into “Guardians of the oceans”. The project informs and stimulates young students (9-11) to take care and study the oceans while getting involved in current socio-environmental problems, fostering practical learning experiences in the coastal environment. The children become researchers and young monitors of the coast next to which they grew up, informed and conscious about the physical features of the ecosystem, the local culture, and the socioeconomic activities carried out in their community. My work includes: the monitoring and management of a small maritime museum, morning scientific expeditions on the “praias” (beaches) with school kids, and cataloging new oceanic specimen. During the last months, I’ve been involved in environmental activism, raising awareness on plastic issue at the beach. My apprenticeship shaped me during this year, taught me things I was unaware of, changed my major/minor and exposed me to people that truly love their jobs (and the environment yey!). it made me realize we are never too few to make a big difference.

The scientific expeditions often include dolphin and whales watching- which are unique!

Kids are teachers. They conquer me daily with their energetic attitude and positivity. Once I say I’m from Italy, at least 3 or 4 kids come around and ask me about football or Italian cuisine. Being the kids the most vulnerable and genuine members of society, they’re often trapped in, I’d say, “ingenuine stereotyping”. Having most of them never been exposed to other cultures, they often assume and ask things about the countries we come from. However both of the parts— through their queries and transparent curiosity of knowing more— we mutually learn and exchange experiences. Despite their limited knowledge about my country, through the address of stereotypical cultural features (which I often try to dismantle!), we make connections and get the chance to enjoy our laughs. Children are authentic and gentle, and they mean what they say. Their curiosity and joy of discovery make me understand how important it is to never stop enjoying the process of learning.

Marco Barracchia