Winterline: My Gap Year Hasn’t Opened My Eyes to the World

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Finding Acceptance

My Gap Year has felt more like a holiday, getting to travel for a short vacation away from my reality that is home in Nepal and the struggles that I can see and feel there.

Finding My Comfort Zone

I’ve always been out of place, a stray puzzle piece that doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Back in Nepal, boarding school in India – it didn’t matter where I went, there was always someone who didn’t like what I wore or what I represented. Winterline has been different – it has been a wonderful group that not only accepts, but respects me. I’ve experienced something I feel like I’ve rarely experienced before: a sense of adequacy. Everything so far has felt comfortable, even if I’d never done it before. Everyone else has been pushed outside of their comfort zone. I’ve been pushed into a comfort zone.

I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons there – inside of the comfort zone, where I can really stand still for a second and evaluate, something I’ve almost never done. I’ve learned that there’s so much growing to be done every day! I’ve learned to throw myself out there.

Sure, I could just sit back and do what is expected of me and be enough. But that’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to be just good enough. There are days where even doing just that is difficult but when I’m barely making an effort is when I need to be working the hardest. I’ve met many people on this journey, driven by goals and ideas who have more knowledge on one single skill or idea than you would think there is to know! All because they’ve dedicated themselves to never being just good enough and pushing themselves constantly.

Discovering Growth

I found that growth is an incredibly slow-moving, constant, lifetime process. And most of that is the daily grind of effort and willingness to grow and understand that it’s never easy and it’s not supposed to be. It’s kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs when I think I can’t do it anymore and I keep doing it anyway.

I’ve learned growth is intentional; it doesn’t happen by accident.

I saw on my Gap Year that growth hurts. It hurts the same way everything hurts when I’m on the last stretch of ascending a hill on a long trek and my muscles are screaming in pain but I keep going because I’ve made it so far and I know that it’s going to be worth it. And I know that it’s going to hurt more the next day, but I do it anyway, because what I will remember is the reward and not the pain. I imagine a lifetime of growth, never any less painful but always stronger for it. I ask myself these questions: “Would I rather not have seen or felt struggle? Do I doubt myself for saying maybe? Am I stronger or weaker for this realization? Do the experiences I’ve had make me indestructible or vulnerable?”

My Gap Year Didn’t Change My Life… I Did

I am who I am. Nothing will change that. I can’t change who I am, and I can be bitter about it or I can maybe try and love myself and maybe do some good in the process.

I guess the answer is choice: What I do with what I have. Do I let the struggles I’ve seen make me more hateful towards those who choose to ignore them? Or do I help them see what can change? It’s something I struggle with every day. I would have never imagined myself where am today. Never. I could have easily been the next kid, fighting for an education, married off at age nine. Instead, I try to have gratitude for what I have. I have choice. And on Winterline, I have had and will have all the resources I need to make my own choices, good ones that I will be proud of and bad ones that I will be thankful to have known and learnt from.

At the beginning of Winterline, they told us it will be as difficult as we make it. We can shuffle around people and cultures like the next tourist or we can simply be present in the crazy whirlpool of opportunities that are already there for us. I’m trying to chose to make an effort every day of my life, whatever it’s going to throw at me. My Gap Year didn’t change my life, I did.

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Prathana Shrestha first published this piece on the Winterline Student Voices.

Why I Decided to Take a Bridge Year

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dominic
I write in the dim airplane cabin, the glow of my laptop illuminating my face as the faint rumble of the engine forms a ceaseless background to the bustle of the flight attendants beside me. Sudden tremors of turbulence strike me as a representation of what lies at the end of this flight: the beginning of a journey that promises tribulation. As jet engines propel me ever farther away from my life of comfort and safety, the reality of what is to come seems all the more real.

All That Awaits Me in Ecuador for Certain is Uncertainty

In a few short hours, I will step foot into a nation where I am largely ignorant to the local language, culture, and customs with little concrete knowledge of where I will be staying or what I will be doing. Never before have I taken such a blind leap of faith into a new experience. Yet, somehow, as my new reality of discomfort draws closer, my breaths get deeper, my muscles relax, and a profound sense of calm envelops my being. Rarely during my regular schedule of rigorous academics and extracurriculars did I feel such a freeing sensation. It is striking how, in a quest to find peace, risk succeeded where routine failed.

Why?

To answer the question of why I decided to take a bridge year, I could call upon all of the logical reasons that my active involvement in an Ecuadorian community has the potential to be a mutually beneficial relationship that will prepare me to be a global leader. However, while this reasoning is absolutely valid, my pure response comes from a far deeper place. From the moment I learned of my acceptance to Global Citizen Year, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make my dream of taking a formative bridge year a reality. Buried within myself, I felt something drawing me towards unfamiliarity, new perspectives, and self-discovery. What I can only describe as my basic instinct recognized that which I needed most far before my methodically calculated self did, and I was immediately overcome with an overwhelming urge to follow my heart.

As I have taken the first steps of the impending marathon that is a Global Citizen Year, my confidence in my decision to participate has blossomed. Progressing through Pre-departure Training with some of the most insightful individuals I have ever met left me with a feeling of emotional fullness that I can only describe as being utterly, unconditionally alive.

After eighteen years of fulfilling societal expectations, I have finally stepped off the conveyor belt of traditional education and listened to the desperate voice within me that cries out that there must be something more. For the next eight months, I will seek education that transcends textbooks and lecture halls. Where I am going, every sunrise symbolizes a renewed opportunity to discover, to empathize, and to learn. All the pressure to “do” has been alleviated, and I am now free to just “be.” My blissful unfamiliarity with the Ecuadorian culture has empowered me to escape the role of an achiever and transition to that of an observer. Shedding the obligation to pursue tangible achievements has liberated me to focus simply on maintaining an open mind and open heart throughout the inevitable ups and downs that are to come.

At just the right time, I allowed myself to acknowledge the bridge year that was beckoning me to take part and, thanks to Global Citizen Year, I was able to say yes. Like an ongoing domino effect, that first yes has led me to Ecuador, where I promise to keep saying yes. Over and over, I will say yes to things that appear foreign, things that are challenging, and things that scare me. With “yes” at the tip of my tongue, I dive into the upcoming journey, and I cannot wait to see where it leads.

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Dominic Snyder is a Global Citizen Year Fellow in Ecuador. He is passionate about pursuing enlightening experiences and forging connections with people. He has had the opportunity to support his peers through a student counseling program, lead his school’s DECA and FBLA chapters, and travel to Japan and the Dominican Republic with summer abroad programs. His goals for his Global Citizen Year are to approach every moment as a chance for growth while maintaining an open mind and an open heart. He is inspired by the kindness, perseverance, and passion of his closest friends and family. Click here to check out Dominic’s blog.

How to Maximize Your Gap Year Through Continuous Reflexive Learning

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Taking a Gap Year is a great way to experience new things, you wouldn’t otherwise have time for later on. The things you do, and learn throughout this period can provide you with a wealth of knowledge you can harness for years to come, if you know how to use these experiences to their fullest.

Before you begin your Gap Year, it might be a good idea to consider joining a Gap Year program. This way, you’ll make sure that you have a sound plan when it comes to how you’re going to spend your time during this period.

Taking a full year off before you go to college might seem like a very long time. But as a learning experience, it’s relatively short. Think about how long it takes to become a certified nurse, for example. More than that, the information you will be receiving will be more or less unstructured. You won’t have a teacher besides you, explaining what everything means, and what you should be looking for. That’s where reflexive learning comes in.

What is Reflexive Learning?

Reflexive learning is much more than just accumulating information, and being able to reproduce it later. That’s basically the traditional, didactic mode of teaching. A professor stands in front of the classroom, and talks about their subject, while the students take down that information, and learn it, in order to pass their exams. However, rarely do you get a chance to think about how you can apply that information in real life situations. And rarely do you get a chance to find new ways of combining those bits of information, to reach new ideas.

A reflective learner takes charge of the learning process. Apart from gathering information, you’re also responsible for putting it together, and then assessing the results of this process. More and more colleges are opting for this mode of learning, even when it comes to training their own staff.

It helps you become more aware of your understanding of the world around you, your biases, and preferences. In the long run, it can help you become more efficient in your learning process, and more quick to adapt to new situations. Reflexive learning should become a habit, to get the most out of your learning experience, no matter where you may stumble upon them.

Reflexive Learning Takes Practice

This type of learning requires a lot of practice for it to become effective. Encountering different cultures is known to be a trigger for reflexive thinking, because it shed new light on many things that you are accustomed to, and tend to take for granted. Using your gap year as an opportunity to travel, and discover new cultures can be one of the most life changing experience you can have.

Observing the way other cultures understand and deal with similar problems provides you with an opportunity to think about the ways in which you deal with certain issues, and how much of that practice has to do with your culture, rather than your own inclinations. You discover ways of dealing with certain situations that are much more efficient, because they will feel more natural to you.

Training yourself to reflect upon your personal experiences is also going to give a head start when it comes to college. For teachers, it may quite difficult to find the perfect method to deliver their classes so all of their students benefit from it, when they have to deal with dozens, or hundreds of people.

Get to Know Yourself & Others

The skill you will have gained during your Gap Year is going to help structure information in such a way as to help you retain it, and use it later on. And the experiences you will have gained are going to provide you with something to which you can compare and contrast the information you receive in college.

And use this time to learn about how the world works, and more importantly, about how people are. Really get to know all the people you meet along the way. And don’t just focus on what they have to offer. Think about yourself, and how you relate to them as well. The truth is, you’re never going to be able to understand someone fully. But you have a good chance to know yourself in depth. And the best way to understand things about you is in relation to others.

After your Gap Year is over, you shouldn’t let all of those memories, and teachings gather dust. Any encounter can be a learning experience, as long as you use it as such. The only time wasted is the time not spent learning something new. Take every opportunity you get to challenge your preconceptions, and make reflexive learning a life-long habit.

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About the author: Amanda Wilks is a Boston University graduate and a part-time writer. She has a great interest in everything related to career-building advice and entrepreneurship and loves helping people reach their true potential.