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Monthly Archives: August 2019

Olivia – High, Formless Expectations

I am going into this with high, formless expectations. The place I am visiting, Bali, Indonesia, has a reputation for being a “spiritual place.” As a fan of meditation and proponent of New Age thought, I am curious to explore how these cross cultural values are expressed in this area vs. the Western environment.

The Einstein saying goes “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Considering I will be teaching a computer skills class to young children, I hope to gain a stronger appreciation for technology in general. I imagine communicating and demonstrating skills I use every day in a variety of ways will allow me to understand how useful and necessary they are, especially since Computer Science is what I hope to study.

My purpose in taking a gap year is to make the years following it more meaningful and fulfilling to me. I have never been out of the country. My growth in school and academics has been well spent and had good return, but towards the final year of high school I began to feel the discrepancy between the volume of words and facts and their connection to tangible experiences. This gap year is like a collection and linkage of all the border pieces on a jigsaw puzzle. The four years of college can then be assimilated as the central image more efficiently.

I know that general homesickness and culture shock are common challenges faced when traveling anywhere for an extended period of time. My program’s abroad phase will extend over 10 weeks– I know the emotional turbulence will be temporary and will therefore make the most of the relatively short time to learn as much as I can. That is perhaps the most welcome challenge: maintaining a consistent and fulfilling curiosity with all the elements of the new environment. I refuse to label any day as lacking and hope to expand my knowledge and sense of appreciation for the culture with this experience And of course, to reflect on the impact it will have on my worldview (I’m also an avid journal-er). As of now I can only speak in these broad ideas, but I will tie them to personal experiences once I arrive in October.

Rollie – Iguazu Falls

My alarm went off at 3:30 A.M., and I hated my phone as I walked groggily across the hotel room to shut it off. We were picked up in the lobby a few minutes later for the airport, and as I was waiting in the terminal, I asked myself, “what in the world could be worth this?” After a two hour flight, I was still not yet convinced, even after entering the national park, I was not convinced, the park looked like a touristy waste of time as far as I was concerned.

Pilar, our guide filled the beginning of our first hike with information about the animals and such, and I was not impressed, this was not worth only getting four hours of sleep. Naturally, my bad attitude wore off as the coffee kicked in and as we approached a small waterfall on the trail. When I say small waterfall, it is about the size of many of the waterfalls found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so large enough to merit the quarter mile hike, but not the early wake up.

After an additional twenty minutes on the slick trail, we rounded a corner and saw the falls for the first time, spectacular. This view was what I came here for, this I told my self was worth the 3:30 wake up. The falls we saw initially were on the Brazilian side, which is only about a third of the total falls with the other two thirds belonging to Argentina. As our hike progressed I was impressed by the “trail” all of which was made of metal platforms similar to those of a play structure. Although I thought it excessive to have miles of trails that were fully improved, I quickly remembered that being 800 miles north of the grasslands surrounding Buenos Aires we were in a tropical region and the investment was necessary to create a trail system that could withstand the massive rains. Anyways, enough about the trails, further down, I saw the Argentine side of the falls and was awestruck. The hundreds of small falls come together into a landscape of falls, much different than Niagara which has two large falls, the smaller falls combined create a much more dynamic visual that kept me constantly moving my gaze from small fall to small fall.

After finishing our first hike (the lower trail) and getting a snack, we embarked on the upper trail. The upper trail was unique in that there is not only a long trail on top of the gorge along the river, but in that there is a full succession of bridges allowing for tourists to cross the river above the falls and to stand at the top of the falls looking down at the beauty. Although I enjoyed the lower trail more, I admired the engineering feat that was required to make bridges and platforms going through one of the largest waterfalls on the planet. More on the size, Iguazu is the longest waterfall by width, Niagara is much larger in terms of cubic feet/minute, and Victoria is the largest waterfall by volume but still not as wide as Iguazu.

Zak – Preparing to Gap

Hello present and future Blue Devils. Welcome to my first ever blog post for the Duke Gap year program! In today’s addition I will be discussing how and why I chose to take a gap year.

For me, taking a gap year was a fairly easy decision. After four grueling years of high school I was pretty burnt out. As incredible as Duke is, the idea of jumping straight into an even more academic environment seemed extremely daunting. I was also fortunate to have several friends who took their own gap years and said it was the best decision of their lives.

Another factor in my gap year decision was that I truly have no idea what I want to study. Last week I was interested in mechanical engineering, this week I’m interested in sports medicine and next week… who knows? Clearly I need to spend some quality time with myself and hopefully get some clarity.

The hardest part about deciding to take a gap year was definitely finding a program that was right for me. After finishing the strenuous college application process, I was certainly not excited to discover that the process for applying for gap year programs was exactly the same! Sure it’s slightly less stressful, but the general experience was very similar. Like applying for college, there were hundreds of fabulous gap year programs that deserve consideration, which I simply did not have the time or brain power to consider. Most programs also require essays which are eerily reminiscent of the never ending personal statements required for colleges. Despite these hurdles, I summoned my inner strength and applied for several programs that seemed interesting.

Almost by accident, I stumbled upon The School of The New York Times where I will spend my fall semester. There I will live in New York and study under some of the Times’ best writers and thinkers. I am extremely excited to start this new adventure and I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!

Makee – Leaving Home in 30 Days

A painting I made to take a piece of home with me while abroad.

I will be leaving home in 30 days. I will be out of the country, away from family, friends, and everything familiar, for approximately 261 days after that.

Here is the bad news: for the next 30 days I have to watch all my friends leave town and go to college (and admittedly, I will feel some FOMO). Here is the good news: I will be leaving town for Paris, for an unknown adventure, to discover the uncharted, and to have the most awesome year yet.

I can already picture myself strolling down cobblestone streets, ordering in French without waiters trying to stifle their laughter, and sitting by the river Seine nibbling a slice of brie cheese. No, my 3-month stop in Paris won’t be an idyllic, chic montage, but I’m excited to immerse myself in a new culture, refine my French, and feel like I’ve made a home for myself in a beautiful new place. I can’t wait to get to know my host family, gap cohort, and classmates at the Sorbonne, where I will be taking French language and literature. I’m equally looking forward to the delicious food, cool museums, and vibrant art scene.

For the first time in my life, I am utterly and completely in control. I have the freedom to travel the world, to spend a year exactly as I please, and to take advantage of this opportunity as much as I can. I can’t wait to embark on this exploration of the world–which is, more importantly, an exploration of self–and uncover what lies beyond the small sphere I’ve inhabited for the past 18 years. It’s a bit daunting to plan a year where my options are limitless, but also really empowering.

My goals for the upcoming year include, but are not limited to: learning Italian, cooking a decent dinner, becoming a public transportation expert, bettering my French and Spanish, traveling for 30 days straight, making friends from different cultures, not speaking English for at least 24 hour periods, going on a spontaneous trip, and learning to paint. Hopefully I can accomplish these, and add on many more skills that I pick up along the way.

I’m excited to find out what those are.

Cate – About My Gap Year

Hi! My name is Cate and this year I will be taking a gap year before pursuing my college education at Duke University in Fall 2020. By taking this gap year, I will get the opportunity to explore my interests, recharge from the stress of high school, and gain new skills that will be useful in my college career-and beyond! With this blog, I hope to keep you updated on all of my newest adventures and discoveries throughout the year. But first, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

I come from Idaho, also known as the land of the potatoes, and grew up with the mountains in my backyard. From exploring national parks all across the West to learning to fly fish in the Boise River, I’ve enjoyed spending time in nature from the very beginning.

Upon reaching high school, this love for the outdoors expanded into a love of science and inquiry as I took my first chemistry and biology classes. As I look toward my future college career, I’m hoping to continue my scientific inquiries and study biochemistry. However, I’m still unsure as to where my path may lead and am excited to explore my interests further during this gap year.

While planning my year, I decided that I really wanted to delve deeper into topics and interests that I really didn’t have the opportunity to explore much in high school. By thinking about these interests, I formed a plan for a year that will hopefully lead me toward better understanding myself and my goals for my future at Duke.

As I mentioned above, one large part of my identity is my love for the outdoors. In high school, I didn’t explore many of the opportunities regarding nature and the environment. So, to begin my year, I will focus much of my attention on environmental policy and start an internship at the Sierra Club Idaho Chapter. Through this internship, I will explore local environmental issues and learn how to run effective political campaigns. During my time in Boise, I will also be training with a professional grant writer. Throughout high school, I worked to establish a summer camp called Young Maestros, a fun summer orchestra experience offered to underprivileged elementary and junior high schoolers at no cost. For the past several years, Young Maestros has relied on donations from parents and other community members. My goal is to learn how to write grants in order to make Young Maestros more self-sufficient and to provide more resources to the students.


The second part of the year, I will embark on a 4-month trip to Cuenca, Ecuador as a part of the Amigos de las Americas program. While in Ecuador, I will take Spanish immersion courses through the Amauta Spanish School and have an internship with a nonprofit agency focused on biodiversity and sustainability. During the semester, I hope to build my cultural awareness, along with leadership and Spanish language skills, by living with a host family and attending different cultural workshops. To prepare for this trip, I plan to take Spanish language courses at a local language school. Throughout high school, I took German language classes; however, learning Spanish has become a goal of mine and I look forward to working on my language skills throughout the entire year.

In pursuing several different experiences during my gap year, I hope to explore some of my passions and hopefully even discover more. Whether it be studying Spanish in Ecuador or learning more about environmental policy with Sierra Club, I hope to go into my freshman year of college more confident about what interests of mine I should explore further.



Skijler – T-Minus One Month

I’m one month out from my departure — a one-way ticket to Paris. I’ve never been to France, yet here I go alone with nothing but a backpack and camera. I’ve arranged to stay in a hostel in the Montmartre neighborhood for three nights. I had to call the hostel and ask how to book my room, which has probably been the most nerve racking thing so far. Nerve racking because it revealed just how much I didn’t know how to say in French. I know how to debrouiller (a french word that is always hard to translate but basically means to get around), but I’m not going to just be debrouiller-ing. I’m going to be hiking nearly 1,000 miles across the French and Spanish countryside, following an ancient pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago. And so what happens if the roof is leaking in a hostel and I need to ask for a bucket? I don’t know the word for bucket in either French or Spanish — okay now I do because I just looked them up in google translate. But still, I don’t know how to say chapstick, or room-service, or blister, or walking stick, or quantitative biostatistics. Anyway, I suppose that’s a large part of why I’m going: to learn all those words.

Another thing that worries me is the physical difficulty of this journey. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t hiked 1,000 miles before, and my feet don’t seem that excited about the prospect. I know I can do it — I am just trying to not think of the blisters (apparently cloque in French, God knows how I’m going to remember that). I’ve been going hiking about three times a week, and I am starting to understand how to pace myself and such, but closer to my departure I should be hiking every morning to prepare. We’ll see if that actually happens. Anyway, I’ve spent way too much time at REI and online researching the best gear, so hopefully I am as comfortable as I can be on the trail. I’m trying not to think of this as a get-fit-quick scheme, but hopefully I at least come out with some really nice calves when I return.

I think more importantly too, I have to consider the mental challenges of this journey. For most people my age there is college to buffer a transition into adulthood. And while I will still have four years at Duke, I will have to embark on this year independently. I’ll have to navigate living in a foreign country, speaking a new language, and taking responsibility over myself. I am ready, but I am not going to have the same support system that exists at a university, nor is there going to be the camaraderie that exists between freshman students as they figure out this new chapter in life. I am going to be in charge of myself — that’s both exciting and daunting. Anyway, see you in a year, Duke!



Mackenzie – Six Weeks

Six weeks. To students who are on summer break and are dreading their return to the academic grind, a month and a half passes by in the blink of an eye. However, to individuals anxiously awaiting news from their dream job or college, a month and a half can feel like a century. For the record, my 6-week long internship (June 17, 2019 through July 26, 2019) with Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF)—the second largest law firm in the United States—included both of these perceptions of time. Let me tell you why…

I remember the morning of June 17th, my first day on the job, like the back of my hand. Although waking up at 5:45 AM to the aggravating sound of my alarm clock gave me unwanted flashbacks to getting up at the crack of dawn for school, a comforting rush of adrenaline bolted through my veins. My bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self was excited about the opportunity to exercise a new level of independence and to officially be classified as a “working girl”. Admittedly, when I arrived to the office that first day, I stared in awe at the building’s huge rotating doors for at least ten minutes. I keenly observed as women in dresses and men in suits—some on the phone and others clutching coffee and their briefcase—strolled through the entrance with such confidence and sophistication as if they owned the place. It seemed so unbelievable that the adventure before me was my actual reality and not just a dream that I could pinch myself to wake up from.

For the entire duration of my internship, 12 hours per day Monday through Friday were dedicated to my job. Of course, I wasn’t behind my cubicle for all of those hours (you could only find me at my desk for a mere 7.5 hours each day), but I might as well have been because by the time I got home from work around 6:30 pm every evening, I was extremely mentally fatigued. Going to a top tier middle and high school, there’s no denying that I’m callused to the “brain strain” that comes with operating on an average of six hours of rest during the day due to sacrificing sleep for studying, having at least 5 hours of homework to do after already being at school for 8.5 hours, preparing to take assessments in four different classes all on the same day, and only being able to savor Fridays after 4 pm as my sole nights of freedom in which I prevented myself from even looking at my backpack.

However, being a temporary employee with NRF exerted a very foreign wear and tear on me mentally. I’m a hardcore believer in the mantra that the early bird gets the worm, so my five-day workweek was spent rising and shining 15 minutes before 6 AM. This left me with an hour to get dressed and make a DIY breakfast before having to leave my house no later than 6:45 AM. During the 45-minute commute to the Metro Train Station, I’d listen to episodes of my podcast that woke my brain up with stories of true crime. At 7:30 AM, I paid $3 to park my car at the Sam’s Club near the Metro Train Station, and then I caught the train to Downtown Houston. My 30-minute train ride was always painless but nevertheless required that I be alert and on guard at all times. Once dropped off at Main Street Square, I walked about three blocks in my sneakers to the NRF tower and used the 15 minutes before 8:30 AM to store my lunch in my floor’s communal refrigerator, brew a cup of morning joe, and substitute my sneakers for my heels.

From 8:30 AM to 5 PM (save my one-hour lunch break from 12 PM to 1 PM) for six weeks straight, I meticulously filed and scanned documents for the firm’s Human Resources (HR) Department hour after hour. To stimulate my mind with something new, I was occasionally assigned research projects to do for the Recruiting Manager and always looked forward to the once-a-week seminars that served as a chance to both meet up with the other interns who were working on different floors and to learn about topics such as how to prepare for each side of an argument, how to ace an interview, how to become a summer associate at NRF, how to format your resume, and what to expect in law school. When 5 PM struck the clock, I did the reverse of my morning routine: walk a few blocks to the train station, take the train back to the parking lot where my car was, sit in traffic for ages, and finally make it back home after an hour and half of total commute time. After eating my dinner, I was too worn out to do anything else but take my shower and go to bed, only to wake up the next morning to begin the cycle again.

Returning to the point I brought up in the beginning, it was when I was completely engrossed in the menial task of filing and scanning that the minutes seemed to tick by as slowly as molassestrickles down a spoon. Even my boss told me that I got the short end of the stick in comparison to the other interns! But with that said, I never failed to put my best foot forward because even though staring at the same buttons on the scanner and similar-looking PDFs on the computer for hours on end took a toll on both my eyes and stamina, I was dealing with extremely sensitive information that needed to be handled carefully. NRF recently merged with Chadbourne and Parke LLP, and it was important to the entire HR department that certain documents (e.g. history cards, employment applications, signed contracts, etc.) for terminated and active employees from Chadbourne and Parke LLP were scanned into the system and named in a particular way. A required document not being scanned in or a file folder being named incorrectly (even if these mistakes were accidental) would only result in detrimental consequences. Therefore, the responsibility to be on my toes and to not miss a beat—no matter my level of exhaustion—fell on me and only me, so I took my work seriously!

However, when July 26th (my last day on the job) rolled around, my internship with NRF was over before I could even process that it was happening; in the scheme of things, the six weeks of me being a “working girl” was an invaluable, yet ephemeral period of my life. Packing up the decorations on my desk and saying goodbye to my boss, my coworker who occupied the cubicle neighboring mine, and the other interns was very bittersweet. The bitter is a reflection of how sad I was to come to the realization that the incredible relationships I formed would no longer be cultivated by daily, in-person contact. The sweet, on the other hand, is a reflection of how I couldn’t help but feel like a bird leaving the nest, with her newfound independence and security in who she is and what she’s capable of, ready to embrace the next experience that life brings her way!