It’s hard to believe how quickly this year has come to an end! It seems like only yesterday I was completing my application for the gap year program, and suddenly I am preparing to attend university. It would be a lie to say that I am not worried about the fall. With so much uncertainty, it is hard not to be. I have been juggling questions regarding whether or not it is a safe or appropriate time to move towards some form of normalcy. Should I take a risk and attend school on-campus, or play it safe and take classes online? As much as I want to meet everyone in-person, and immerse myself into the Duke community, I remain quite cautious, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina. It might just be too early to tell. While I have been feeling anxious, due to the uncertainty of our circumstances, I do not let them get the best of me. If my gap year taught me anything, it was how to deal with uncertainty! As our summer progresses, and we move towards the upcoming school year, I encourage everyone to remain positive and keep an open mind. While this year has been quite crazy, I am certain that some amazing things are bound to happen.
While my time with you all has come to an end, I still have a bit more planned before university begins. Starting next week, I will be participating in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Pre-Professional Virtual Summer Intensive. I am beyond excited! With a full month of learning the company’s works, choreographed by the likes of Crystal Pite and Peter Chu, I cannot wait to see how I grow. Additionally, I will continue working on choreography for a concept video I have been planning for the past month. From formulating a message to creating choreography to learning how to use editing applications, it has been quite a difficult yet rewarding task. I cannot wait to share my message with the world and see how the final product turns out!
As this is my last social media post on this account, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has followed the journeys of the 2019-2020 Duke Gap Year Program cohort. If you have been considering taking a gap year, I hope we inspired your plans! It was quite special sharing my experiences with you all and I cannot wait to see what is in store for this account and the upcoming cohort of gap year students!
To all of the incoming gap year students,
To start this letter, I want to congratulate each an everyone one of you for getting into Duke and deciding to take a gap year. I’m sure that the vast majority of your friends are going straight to college, and the decision to take a year off was probably a tough one. As excited as I was to take my gap year, I went through a lot of the feelings that I’m sure have crossed your mind at least once by now. I had this underlying sense that I was falling behind. That in not going directly to college, I wasn’t going to have the same experiences as my high school friends.
While I know now that I am in no way “behind,” I was partially right. My first year away from home was vastly different from all of my friends. Although, different does not mean worse. I promise your experiences will not be the same as those of your friends. During my year in Granada, Spain, I traveled solo, met people from over 30 different countries, learned a new language, and found lifetime friends. I had an unforgettable time that sparked a love of travelling that I doubt I’ll ever lose.
The biggest changes I faced weren’t what I expected. I thought the initial language barrier or even the food would be the biggest difference between my life in the US and my life in Spain. First of all, you will be going from total structure to absolute freedom in a matter of months. Coming from high school, you will be used to days jam packed with classes, extracurriculars, and other responsibilities. On your gap year, you will have find your own balance between planning and spontaneity. The other main change in my life were the people I spent my time with. I was used to mainly being around other high schoolers. In Spain, I had friends from everywhere all with unique backgrounds and experiences. Everyone was in completely different stages of their lives. Some days I watched a Spanish reality singing competition with my 15 year-old host sister while on others I got tapas with my friend who starts medical school in the fall. On your gap year, you are going to be around a wide variety of people no matter where you choose to go. I’ve learned that forming relationships with people that don’t have your same life experiences makes you into a great listener. It opens your mind to new points of views you may have never thought of before.
So, to the next cohort of gap year students, I promise you will end the year more self-assured and open-minded. Remember to be patient and flexible, because if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that plans can change suddenly.
If you are taking a gap year and enjoy the outdoors, you should definitely go on a NOLS trip. I went on the NOLS Patagonia cultural expedition which was probably the highlight of my gap year. Having spent the previous 4 months in Spain, not only was I able to enjoy the wilderness, I was able to form deeper connections with the community along the way. These people included Chilean border patrol stationed on a lake that crossed over into Argentina, gauchos (Chilean cowboys), and pobladores (people who settled Patagonia). Not only did I learn about the current culture of Patagonia, but I also learned about the history, and the parallels between the Chilean/Argentinian settlement of Patagonia and the settlement of the American west.
This may sound a bit cliché, but the trip was a reset for me. I was with completely new people in a completely different place without my phone, which usually ties me to the world I know. Going into the trip I reasoned that anyone who wanted to spend 30 days in the Patagonian wilderness was someone I wanted to know, and I could have not been more right. I made friends from all over the country and world, some who I would have certainly seen more of if it weren’t for the pandemic.
If I boil down what really made this experience so fantastic it really comes down to the sheer number of experiences that the trip presented. I had not spent a full month without my phone since 8th grade. I learned just about everything there is to know about backpacking, and even earned a Leave No Trace Trainer certificate. I learned the proper way to make and serve maté, the unofficial official drink of Patagonia. helped a poblador named Oscar lasso a lamb, then watched him slaughter it and cook it over a fire to make the a traditional Patagonian asado. This experience was an especially fascinating one for me because it really made me think about eating meat. The way Oscar killed the lamb was the most humane way imaginable, which has made me more conscious about where the meat I eat came from and how it was raised and killed. It was also fascinating purely because of how unexpected it was. Finally, spending all that time and sharing these experiences with a group of strangers who all became friends makes me really excited for college. I grew up in a small town, so I haven’t really met anyone new since elementary school. I know almost no one going to Duke next year, but I can’t wait to share the experience of college with everyone.
It’s a bit odd that I haven’t written much about the hiking or the camping, but I think that is because those activities, while they take up the majority of your time, are really just a back drop for the rest of the experiences you have on a NOLS trip, so seriously, if you like the outdoors, there is nothing I can recommend more that you do on your gap year.
It occurs to me though, that a prospective NOLS student may be curious about the actual hiking and camping experience, so I will now share. The course lasted 31 days. Over the course of 28 days we hiked approximately 120 miles. On the first two days of the course, we looked at our route, packed up the provisions that we would eat over the next month, learned how to pack our packs, and then drove about 9 hours in a van to our starting point.
The hiking was broken up into 3 sections: 12 days, 9 days, then 7 days. We had to make our way to pre-determined re-ration points, where we would meet up with gauchos who would deliver our food and fuel for the next ration. A 12 day ration is long, so when we started out, my pack weighed about 68 pounds, the majority of it being food. Throughout the first ration, the instructors really acted as teachers. They taught us how to navigate using a map, compass, and GPS, how to choose a campsite, and most importantly how to get creative with the limited ingredients that we had brought. As the days passed, they gradually handed most of the responsibilities over to us. We would determine how far we would hike in a day and when we would start, as well as split our group of 15 into 3 self-sufficient hiking groups, which meant that if we got separated by night fall each group would have everything they needed, which happens more than you would think. In fact, the day before the first re-ration, 2 groups couldn’t find the trail, decided to bushwhack, and it took 4 days before my group of 5 met back up with them.
The rest of the expedition went much more smoothly. No one got lost and we started independent student group travel, where we would hike without the instructors. At this point we had learned so much about trail finding and map reading that it really was no problem at all. The next two re-rations were also much more cultural, as a I wrote about above. We met gauchos and pobladores, and shared many cups maté and stories. When we weren’t with the locals, the typical daily routine was wake up, make breakfast, hike for 6-10 hours, make camp and dinner, relax, then go to bed. But trust me, even though that takes up a lot of time, it goes by fast. Hiking really is one of the best times to have a conversation, and when you’re with a group of people that you just met a few weeks ago it if difficult to run out of topics. NOLS runs trips all over the world, so this experience defiantly won’t be identical to any others. So again, if you like the outdoors, a NOLS trip is one of the best ways to see a place you travel to, so I hope you will consider one during your gap year.