Why I Don’t Feel Guilty About Doing "Nothing" On My Gap Year

Sophia Alfaro - India


January 23, 2019

When I applied to Global Citizen Year, it was with the intention of
exploring a country different from the ones I know, meet like-minded
individuals and increase my opportunities in life. It was never to delay my
education, to escape, or to enforce what I believe is best onto strangers.
I never thought of what I could possibly gain from the simple decision to
click “submit application” and later, “submit deposit”.

Trying to convey into words how I feel about my time away is so incredibly
difficult for me. If this were an in-person conversation, I would be
flailing my arms around, expressing physically with any other body part
what I can’t immediately say with the one used for speaking.

I’m still the same person. But hell, even I’ll admit I’ve changed. By doing
“nothing” I mean I haven’t done what was tacitly expected of me as an
individual and as a fellow of the program. I haven’t met some expectations,
and at times I even set lower ones. I haven’t gone above and beyond, I
haven’t change the world. And to be frank, I don’t care that I haven’t. I’m
proud of what I’ve done so far, even if it’s (to me, at times) very minimal
in comparison to others and to what I *could* be doing.

To put it into a less pitiful truth, my being here alone is influential.

What does my family in rural Dominican Republic think of me? What do my
younger cousins who see me as a role model now know is possible for them to
achieve? Have my past teachers begun to encourage the peers I grew up
around to try something different like I have?

I met the $2,500 fundraising goal before I left for India. Everyone ranging
from my mother, friends of mine, friends of friends, parents who I have
babysat for, distant family, teachers, and my community back home who
donated money and other forms of support such as sharing my campaign, are
all people who believe in me. Those are the people I have to consider if
I’m impressing or making proud. I’m currently in a state of mind that I
have to learn everything that I can, do everything that I’m able to, and
take full advantage of the time I have left here. Although it’s mostly for
my personal gain, it’s also so that when I return home, I can show those
who matter to me what I’ve learned. How their hope in me has been able to
prosper. To be a completely different being, yet the same one they’ve grown
to love and accept. To exceed THEIR expectations, create new ones and to
see better for themselves, myself, and possibly for new people they
encounter.

The fact that I haven’t had students at the school that I’ve been placed in
and spend the majority of my time at go from one grade level to the next,
become fully immersed in Indian culture, or become fluent in Hindi doesn’t
bother me as much as it used to. The pressure to do all of these things
still exists, but the underlying guilt associated with what seemed like
failure is gone.

I’m trying my best. I go to school for 9 hours a day. I only really “teach”
(more like being a source to have fully English conversations with
students) for one or two hours of the time that I’m there, the rest being
dictated to after-school projects, sports, and reading/working on my online
studies/personal matters. That’s my best: giving all my time, having
conversations and being social with staff, students, and even animals at
the school. Being creative and coming up with initiatives as well as trying
to get them rolling there, is my best.

Leaving the flat that belongs to my host family earlier than I need to to
take a bus, not being afraid to board whatever Google Maps says is the
right one and being open to having a conversation and more often than not
make a new friend, is my best.

Going out of my way to use the little Hindi I know with strangers and
friends, their inevitable laughter only encouraging me to say and learn
more, is my best.

Making someone feel better about themselves or sharing a laugh with them is
my best.

In India there are fellows who teach 6 days a week, leading a class of 25+
students by themselves.

There are fellows who are incredibly close and tender with their families.

There are fellows who have become a strong part of a community of locals,
always having something to do or knowing what’s good in the city.

There are fellows who have tight bonds with other fellows.

There are fellows who can have endless conversations in Hindi.

There are fellows who have found programs and clubs that interest them,
such as dance or exercise.

There are fellows who are comparing themselves to other fellows, thinking,
“what do I do to be more like them?” There might be fellows who are
thinking this of me! And here I am, admitting that doing my best is all
that I can seem to do.

I’ve come to learn that I’m not fit to be a teacher to others. Especially
when I’m still teaching some things to my own self.

I’m beginning to have a footing for where my lines are, which boundaries
not to cross, and when to know when it’s all too much for me.

My mind is becoming stronger in its willpower and ability to become more
open, making healthy habits that I’m attempting to keep.

I’ve come to appreciate the friendships I have and am continuously
creating, as well as individuals for who they are and what they can bring
to the table, whatever it may or may not be.

I allow myself to fall more easily and to trust more. unafraid of what I
might land on because deep down, I know I’ll be fine in the end.

At times it feels like I’m doing nothing with my time here.

It’s all about perspective, though, and which perspective we choose; yes,
choose to live in. I’m doing everything that I can whenever I’m mentally
and physically able to. This should be enough, and for me, it is. For those
who truly believe in and want the best for me, it is.

To some, my accomplishments or lack thereof might be absolutely nothing
compared to themselves or their expectations, but for me, it’s what I can
do for now.

And for now, I can genuinely say that I am proud of myself.

And what’s better than that?

Sophia Alfaro