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My Journey in Nepal

By McKenna

My journey in Nepal started with blue skies of Kathmandu when my Himalayan Group landed on the morning of September 16th. The medieval city of Bhaktapur was home for orientation, where we developed group norms, set personal goals, and started ethical discussions during a brief stay at a Permaculture farm and with Learning Service expert. We concluded our time in Bhaktapur with a ceremony that shocked me with its ability to create a sense of community with a group I met just four days ago. 

We then settled into our urban home stays in Patan; a city known for its rich history of art and the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern ways of life in a harmonious way. Patan became home for one month during which we studied Nepali, learned about Newari cultures through celebrating Dashain Festival with our homestay families, and studied with the renowned “Mother of Ayurveda”, Sarita Shrestha. Among the honking motorcycles and peaceful courtyards, I created a family halfway across the world and was thankful for familiar constants that resonated in both my family I left behind and my new one in Patan.

In Nagarkot, I got my first glimpse of the Himalayas during a short student-led excursion. With thirteen students all trying to achieve different objectives in a four-day time slot, I learned a lot about different types of leaders and which are best for specific groups. We stayed in Dhulikhel for mid-course reflection where we revisited our goals and set new intentions for the remainder of the course. 

We then embarked on our fifteen-day trek through the Himalayas to the sacred Gosaikunda Valley. We were blessed by wonderful views of the mountains and jaw-dropping sunsets that  set the sky ablaze with light as we learned about the Himalayan wilderness and outdoor skills whilst also learning from the lessons and activities led by the instructors and different topics ranging from sacred spaces to climate change and human relationship with earth. As the final challenge of the trek, most of the group was able to successfully climb the Suyra peak, which at an altitude just shy of 17,000 feet, is one of the highest points in the valley. It was during this trek that I was challenged the most, both physically and mentally. 

We then embarked to sacred Boudhanath before going to village home stays in the village of Ale Gaun in western Nepal. Ale Gaun is an isolated village consisting of seven houses upon a hill. And there I feel as though I truly learned what community was for the first time. It meant all the aamaas (moms) coming together everyday to prepare lunch (which was the daal bhat, the traditional rice and lentils, of course). It meant aamaa being proud of me even if I spent the day helping Natalie’s family beat rice or Jojo’s sickle grass that day. Having tea time twice a day because whenever you walk by another house, they insist you join them. Never really understanding which dog  belonged to which family. I learned that you don’t need words to express love for one another. 

For our second student-led trip, we spent a week in Chitwan National Park. It was strange to have the landscape be completely flat after only spending time in Nepal’s mountainous or “hilly” regions, but the views consisted of glimpses of one horned rhinos, wild boar, monkeys, wild elephants, and gharial. I was reminded of the importance of considering all the consequences of tourist attractions before partaking in certain activities through our Stand Up For Elephants visit.

From Chitwan we traveled back to the Kathmandu Valley to Namo Buddha Monastery to experience the monastic life of a Tibetan Buddhist. At the monastery we learned about meditation and the basics of Buddhism with a respected lama and reflected back on the teachings through the time. Here, I attempted to stay silent for half days and broke down into tears on the first two attempts (and consequently decided to break my silence). But the third time was the charm! Through this small but significant achievement, I learned how challenging yet illuminating it is to be alone —and undistracted— with your thoughts. I found out that sometimes learning more about yourself can make you even more frustrated and confused. And that although I’m still uncertain about many things about myself and my future, it is important to try to become comfortable with uncertainty. That gap years are opportunities to choose your own path for the first time in your life, and that can be daunting. But the beauty of uncertainty is that there are endless possibilities. 

We finished our time in Nepal at the hilly town of Dhulikhel where we reflected on the journey and drew from the experience to take learning back into our lives. We celebrated the friendships created, challenges overcome and moments of growth to leave Nepal with a better understanding of ourselves in the world that we were able to experience in such a different context. 

The idea of returning home felt surreal after being away for so long. As the trip came to an end, I felt torn. I missed my parents a lot, but now, I missed my host family too. I couldn’t wait to hug my friends who returned from college for holiday break, but dreaded the time I would have to hug those in my group goodbye. I was homesick for both places for the same reason. Two completely different places embody a sense of community which I hold so dear. So, with so much to look back on and so much to look forward to, we boarded our plane in Kathmandu, where we started this journey together. 












Silver Linings on My Gap Year

By Mackenzie

The silver lining I’ve elected to focus on in the midst of this torrential chaos and uncertainty engendered by COVID-19 is the precious, quality time I’ve been able to spend with my family, as the strict quarantine mandate has thrown a monkey wrench in our pre-pandemic, hectic work schedules. Instead of prioritizing getting ahead in our job or school, our new reality is finding creative ways to bond (watching various TV series on Netflix and Amazon Prime, staying up late to play Taboo, congregating in the kitchen to prepare meals together, etc.) so that we don’t go stir-crazy seeing one another 24/7 within the confines of our home. Inescapable family time not only couldn’t have been experienced at a more opportune moment than in the months immediately preceding my departure for college, but of equal importance, it’s allowed me to realize and appreciate one of the main reasons my Gap Year has been so transformative, enriching, and unforgettable: the close relationships and friendships that I’ve built at every step of this year-long journey. If my naïve 12th-grader self would’ve had even the slightest idea about how much fun she’d soon have sincerely getting to know people from all walks of life while interning at law firms, working on a US Senate political campaign, founding an academic nonprofit called Mack’s School Prep, and volunteering in Costa Rica for 2 months,  she definitely would’ve known what was in her best interest and wouldn’t have been so hesitant about pursuing a Gap Year at first. Apparently, hindsight really is 20/20!

My coworker and I at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP!

Job at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP:

    • During our one-hour lunch breaks together, my co-worker/deskmate Allie would talk to me about her fanatical obsession with all things true crime, which ultimately got me hooked on what is still my favorite podcast: Crime Junkie. Thanks to Allie spurring my own interest in true crime stories, I’ve really enjoyed learning about the cases of people like Adnan Syed, in which the facts don’t present an unequivocal answer regarding whether the suspect is innocent or guilty.


Hanging out at the law firm!

Job at Horne Rota Moos LLP:

    • Catherine, the attorney who helped me secure my job at this law firm, taught me the importance of embracing spontaneity, as planning my future to the “T”, especially when it comes to my education and career goals, means not leaving room for exploration.
    • Terri, my day-to-day supervisor and the office mom, always took advantage of opportunities to impart encouraging words, such as nobody can make me feel inferior without my consent, to me.


Working on Amanda Edwards’ Texas Senate campaign.



Internship on US Senate political campaign:

    • Witnessing Amanda Edwards, the candidate challenging John Cornyn for his seat to represent Texas in the US Senate, gracefully persevere after being denied support and financial assistance time and time again during phone banking really underscored the value of using rejection as fuel to work harder to achieve the goals I set my mind to.

Mack’s School Prep (MSP):

      • When I was working to get MSP in front of students at South Early College High School, Nia and JeTaury, two Class of 2020 seniors with multiple connections to the student body as well as the faculty, generously and graciously offered to use their influence to help me advertise my academic program before I even had a chance to gain my bearings at their campus. Their unwavering selflessness and thoughtfulness without expecting any compensation in return inspired me to continue blessing people with unexpected acts of kindness, no matter how small, because they truly go a long way in terms of uplifting others’ spirits.
Volunteering in Costa Rica.

Volunteering in Costa Rica:

Megan, a New Yorker who became one of my good friends during the trip, has a disease known as Cystic Fibrosis that is medically predicted to result in her having a shorter than normal life expectancy. Megan’s steadfast optimism (in spite of having a grave reason not to) and admirable willingness to take risks, try new things, and get out of her comfort zone without any fear made me want to live each day with no regrets, which is why (in addition to being an adrenaline junkie) I went bungee jumping from a height of 469 feet in Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Taylor was a volunteer from Florida who I cherished spending time with because of her contagious aura of love. Her natural ability to retaliate against belligerence with kindness motivated me and others to not permit negativity to steal our joy.


Given that my Gap Year is practically over at this point, it elates me to have had the special opportunity to interact with an eclectic array of incredible people who have provided me food for thought, touched my heart in more ways than one, and opened my eyes to what it means to lead a fulfilling life. And for that, I couldn’t be prouder of my decision to take a Gap Year and more grateful for the immense amount of support I’ve received throughout it! Thank you to all.

On my gap year, part of the magic came from the people I meet.


Gap Year Reflection: Living with Intention

By Makee

At home, I’ve taken to driving around. There’s not much else to do and it’s nice to have some space for myself. I’ve discovered new nooks of neighborhoods I thought I knew and mentally bookmarked interesting houses on street corners.

I’ve noticed big changes in myself after my gap year that show in small ways. It’s in the way I drive around town, the way I shop for groceries, the way I listen to podcasts while brushing my teeth.

A year ago, I would tell you that I am directionally and spatially challenged, and completely reliant on google maps to get from point A to B (even though I’ve lived in the same place my entire life). I drove in a frenzy most of the time because I was always running late. As I drove last night, I realized I didn’t have my GPS up. I was conscious of what highway I was on (I-85), and I knew that I was headed south. This may be an irrelevant revelation to most people, but for me, who never knew the names of highways, who never could point north or south, I was surprised at how much I had learned just from paying a little more attention.

On I-85 I knew my life had come into slightly clearer focus. Not just because I was more aware of my surroundings and my physical place in them, but because I had become a more intentional person. I was less concerned with where I was headed, and more interested in how I got there.

My gap year gave me the time to think about where I’m going, but more importantly, to reflect on how I would get there. I noticed small things about my everyday routine, like relying on my GPS, and had the time to pause and think about them. My time in Paris taught me to think about the foods I buy from the grocery store–I learned more about seasonal and sustainable eating habits from my host mom. I’ve learned to prioritize my interests and dedicate my time to doing things I love, every. single. day. That’s the magic of a gap year; you take a beat from the frantic high school highway, step outside your life a little bit, and shift your focus to things that actually matter to you.

This year, I committed to reading fifty books, listening to podcasts while I get ready for bed, paying attention to road signs while I drive, and above all, making sure I am actively engaged with my life. This year has restored my sense of autonomy in some ways–I no longer feel like a passenger being swept along a predetermined path. I try not to do things that feel passive, or uninteresting, or serve no purpose.

I’m so grateful for all the experiences I was able to have this year. I know it deeply changed me as a person, and I’m eager to keep thinking about my life within the framework I built during my gap. I can’t wait to get to Duke and think about my everyday choices with intention, as I am doing today.

Trip Report: Spelunking in New Zealand

By Rollie

The sun was scorching, the orange coveralls and red helmet feeling like a lobster shell in which I was being cooked alive. Summitting a small hill, cows scattered in every direction. In front of a small cave, we took a break for our guide, Joe, to brief us. Joe, ever the laid-back Kiwi, summed up his safety briefing with, “So basically don’t do anything stupid. Kapai?” “Kapai,” we answered in unison. With a wry smile, Joe quipped “If the other group is entering through the entrance called Monsters Mouth and coming out of this entrance, where are we entering?” The joke subdued some of the anxiety, but I could tell it was still palpable. After all, I was with a group of teenagers half a world away from their families. In addition to having been out of contact with our families for the past six weeks, we were about to spend the next three hours immersed in the miasma of unknowns better known as a cave.

Meandering down a stream, hopping over boulders, we entered the darkness. I felt like I was being swallowed by an anaconda; humid, dark, and temperate with fang-like stalactites and stalagmites. Splash, I slipped into the stream and my shoes were wet. Huff huff huff, Liz started breathing hard; the tunnel had narrowed to slightly smaller than an average household hallway. Joe handed Lucas and me a map and said, “Can you make sure we get to Recording Room?” as he moved back in the procession to comfort Liz.

I flicked the button on my Felix headlamp and bathed the cave passage with a thousand lumens. I could see about fifteen meters in front of us and it was just enough to keep the claustrophobia at bay. Down and down we went with each step we got further and further from the surface. We were approaching a kilometer into the tunnels, and I was acutely aware of our distance from help, not only underground, but in the middle of a farm field in rural New Zealand, help would be hours away. I placed my hiking boot gingerly on the rock in front of me testing to see if I could walk on it. With a recently repaired ACL, I knew that a slip could be catastrophic and that it would take hours to be stretchered to a doctor.

Remarkably, Lucas and I navigated the group to Recording Room without getting lost. The corridor prior to the cavern had been tight and our group of eight let out a collective breath when we sat down in the much more spacious Recording Room. Joe explained that the room got its name for its remarkable silence, and he instructed us to turn our lights off. In the darkness, he guided us through the most tranquil and meta meditation I have ever experienced. After our eyes adjusted to the darkness, Joe pointed out the glow worms on the ceiling. I looked up to see the night sky, thousands of glow worms emitting a hypnotizing slightly green glow. I felt ultra sensory deprived, silence, not feeling, just the pulsing-glowing green stars on the ceiling.

We traversed another passage and arrived in Glow Worm Grotto where I was again entranced by the glow worms. The experience was visceral and primal in a cave surrounded by darkness relying on my tribe of group members to succeed. Coming to a small subterranean waterfall, we rigged climbing gear to rappel down to the pool below. Joe sent me first and tossed me the remainder of the climbing gear and dry sacks. Daydreaming as I waited for the rest of the group, I couldn’t help but smile, I was in love with all of it; spelunking, New Zealand, the Kiwi attitude, all of it.

We moseyed on at a careful pace to arrive at The Great Hall. In The Great Hall, the other group was waiting in ambush with their lights off, we were thoroughly spooked. As we took a snack break, we excitedly traded stories with the other half of our student group. I heard that the upcoming Possums Passage might be challenging.

We marched on at a steady pace with Joe letting us navigate our next destination was The Balcony Room. We made it to The Balcony Room with little trouble and Lucas and I were quick to proclaim ourselves competent navigators. Shortly after such a proclamation, we couldn’t seem to find the exit to The Balcony Room, and Joe insisted that we had to find it without his help. After ten hopeless minutes, Joe made eye contact and gave a slight nod upwards. How could have we been so oblivious? In the ceiling was the room’s namesake, a balcony. The balcony was close to ten feet off the floor and was in the middle of the room, there wasn’t a wall to scale or a conveniently placed anchor to attach a climbing rope to. The group came to the consensus that a human ladder was the only possibility. Joe, Rachel, and I formed a human ladder, and the rest of the group climbed up us onto the balcony. I went next grabbing the down reaching hands and for a second I thought they would drop me. I turned around to help Rachel up, but Joe shook his head and said, “Not safe brov.” They just walked away from the balcony and three minutes later they were by our side, Joe cheekily exclaimed, “secret passage”.

Slightly irritated by the secret passage that we couldn’t find, we headed for Possums Passage. Possums Passage turned out to be a hole in the wall about a meter wide at the entrance. Flashing my torch into it I could tell that it grew more narrow as it went. “This is what we in the biz call a wormhole,” said Joe.  The group returned his nonchalance with apprehension. Knowing that the claustrophobia would discourage some from taking the tunnel, I dove in first and army-crawled the thirty or so meters to the other side. Half of the group chose to circumvent the tight passage, but for me, it was turned out to be the highlight of the day. The adrenaline rush was why I had come to Aotearoa.


We clambered on and reached Monster’s Mouth exiting into the strong New Zealand sunlight. I am not one for melodrama and poetic cliches, but the cave really did change me. The change wasn’t drastic and it didn’t mark a turning point in my life, but it was my first experience with that particular manifestation of nature and it bestowed some profundities. In the cave, I felt at the complete mercy of nature, a preview that refined my fatalistic outlook and prepped me for evacuating New Zealand in the midst of a pandemic. Little did I know that in a week’s time I would be huddled in the corner of the Auckland Airport with a mask and sunglasses covering my face. The cave made it all seem like if it was my time, then it was my time and helped to soften the realization that the remainder of my gap year travel was canceled.




Anna’s end of year reflection

By Anna

In my final years of high school, I felt disconnected from the rest of the world, and felt compelled to understand the cultures and traditions of other countries. I wanted to escape my niche and explore the world and see all the beauty that I have been away from. I knew I wanted to take a gap year, and it was the greatest decision I ever made. Traveling alone wouldn’t have done it, though. It takes work to travel richly, deeply, and thoughtfully. On my travels before then, I encountered a plethora of people extremely different from myself. They were all wrapped up in their phones the entire time, not taking it in the sights surrounding them. I wanted to immerse myself into experiences I have only dreamed of before, and to have real, substantial conversations about the conservation work I was doing with people who had come to it from a very different perspective.

“You’re taking a gap year? Why?”

“Don’t you want to start college?”

“What are you going to do all year?!?”

These were some of the responses I got when I said that I was not going to college right after high school. In truth, it was a hard decision to make. I had doubts, but I wanted to travel and see the world and meet as many people as I could and discover who I was as a person. A learning experience. I had my doubts, though. What would it be like away from all my friends and peers from high school? It was hard to watch my classmates launch into their first semester at college.

Despite these doubts, I’m so grateful I made the choice to do a gap year. It gave me incredible, once in a lifetime experiences, as well as low points where I struggled. One of my goals was to focus more on giving back rather than on tourism. In Greece, my program was working with our host village to run a summer camp for the kids and one of our tasks was to remodel their community center, so when we left, they would have a nice facility to enjoy. An important aspect of my time in Greece was to avoid barging into this community for a brief amount of time and then leave. We helped the children learn new language skills by doing arts and crafts with them in English. We also helped to create a space they could use for years to come. The community center had a basketball and tennis court when we arrived, but they were falling apart; they were covered in glass and graffiti. We cleaned, painted, and added new nets. Although it was menial work, it was really rewarding to watch the kids see the finished product and know they would have a safe place to run and play around safely for years to come. They kept all the crafts they had made with us, too, but the courts would be for future generations of kids who had been unable to come to the camp. Our gift of time and effort would last for years to come, and it was such a humbling experience. They gave us a gift too, which showed their gratitude towards us and the hard work we put into the community. They opened their homes to us, and we became family. My host family made me feel as if I were at home and they were people I could trust. My host brother and sister assumed the role of makeshift little siblings to me and I created many fun memories with them that will last a lifetime. I am still in contact with my host parents and we message each other from time to time, and I think that is something that is so amazing. We created such a tight-knit bond with complete strangers in ten days, which made the relationship so different from anything else I had experienced. It was something special.

In the next parts of my gap year, I focused more on environmental conservation, as preserving the environment has always been extremely important to me. During my Fall in Australia, we focused on learning and studying predator-prey relationships, and the way the ecosystem has no control over invasive species. We worked hard to bring back the indigenous plants by removing the invasive and harmful introduced plants. I loved being able to ask questions of the people who work in these beautiful places. I’d remove a tangle of weeds, uncover a rock, and then a biologist would explain that rocks are a key part of the ecosystem; reptiles will bask in the sun on the rock, and then their predators will come, too, and eventually the whole system is back in balance. We had to work fast, too; I was there in the fall, when the soil was very dry, and that made removal easier. We knew that if we didn’t hurry, the rains would tighten the grip of the roots and cause even more growth of these harmful weeds.

My work in South Africa gave me a more powerful sense of making a difference than my work in Australia. I worked at a sea bird hospital, tending to injured and sick birds of several endangered species. Feeding motherless chicks on a two-hour cycle, bandaging injured wings, chasing gulls toward the rehab pool who were healthy enough to escape but not healthy enough to be on their own, all felt important. Some days I was exhausted, my hands bruised and swollen from penguin nips, but I was helping save these species. I loved watching the penguins move in the water, so graceful and beautiful, then step out of the water with their clumsy waddling motion. I got to watch birds go from very sick to the rehab stage to the vet check, and when we were lucky, to the release box. Envisioning them waddle out on the beach to live in the wild again was so satisfying. I felt so lucky to actually have an impact like that.

Despite the positives, it was uncomfortable and hard sometimes. I stepped off the plane in Australia knowing absolutely no one. I had never been so far from home, and I was completely isolated. I remember sitting in a room with total strangers who eventually became my good friends. By the time I got to South Africa, I became more confident about being in a strange country far from friends, but I had to deal with a really difficult volunteer, and it really challenged me to figure out how to navigate this unknown country without my family and friends.

Back when I had just decided to take the gap year, I was nervous of what people would think and what they would say about my choice. When they asked, my response was always something along the lines of, “I want to travel and see the world and learn a lot about myself and the planet along the way.” In truth, though, the experience went so far beyond my high expectations. I have friends literally from all over the world–Amsterdam, Germany, London, Australia, South Africa. I understand the world differently and am forever grateful they helped me overcome the obstacles I faced, and most importantly become my family away from home.



A Quarantine Cooking Adventure: Ecuadorian Edition

By Cate

I’ll admit it. My spring semester didn’t go as planned. But then again, in this crazy year of 2020, whose spring has? I thought I would still be in Ecuador during this time. I thought I would be learning Spanish, giving art classes to students, and spending time with my Ecuadorian host family. I thought I would be exploring the downtown of Cuenca or hiking through the highland terrain of Cajas National Park. But here I am, back home because a global pandemic had a different plan for my gap year.

Of course I am disappointed that my time in Ecuador was cut short, but I am also incredibly thankful to have spent the two months I did learning and growing in an international setting. And that growth hasn’t stopped upon returning home. It’s been different for sure, but I’ve tried to continue my path of learning through online Spanish classes and conversations with my Ecuadorian friends and family members. But most importantly, I’ve been keeping up my “studies” of Ecuadorian cuisine.

During quarantine, it seems cooking (and baking) has become the new favorite pastime of many Americans. I have never been a cook (unless you count peanut butter jelly sandwiches and scrambled eggs as cooking phenomena), but I decided there was no better time than a stay-at-home order to try something new. Ambitiously, I decided to recreate several of my favorite Ecuadorian dishes in my American kitchen.

My Americanized Ecuadorian Meal.

Surprisingly, with help from my family, we accomplished the impossible: a somewhat authentic, astonishingly tasty Ecuadorian meal. I’ve included my adapted recipes; in case you’re interested or have the inclination to become an amateur Ecuadorian chef this quarantine. ¡Buen provecho!

Llapingachos: Potato pancakes


  • 6 russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • Typically, achiote is used, but I substituted 1 tsp cumin, ¼ tsp turmeric, and ¼ tsp paprika
  • Around 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour, if needed



  1. Peel the russet potatoes and boil until soft.
  2. As the potatoes are boiling, add oil and chopped onions to a skillet. Cook until the onions are translucent and soft. Pro tip from my mom: to keep them from burning, add a little vegetable or chicken stock to the onions as they cook.
  3. Once the onions are soft, add the seasoning (cumin, turmeric, and paprika). This will create a refrito, or a “flavor base,” that is then added to the potatoes.
  4. Now, mash the potatoes until smooth and add in the onions.
  5. Once mixed, shape the potato mixture into small cup-like structures with a pocket in the center. Fill this pocket with cheese and cover with more of the potato. Once fully covered, shape the round ball into more of a patty shape. If the potato mixture is too crumbly, try adding some flour.
  6. When the patties are ready, cook them on a skillet until golden brown. This is probably the hardest step as the potato pancakes never really “firm-up.” However, we found that using canola oil and heating it up before putting the patties on the skillet makes the process a lot easier. Don’t be afraid to add a lot of oil!
  7. I like to eat llapingachos with avocado slices and curtido recipe included below, but lots of Ecuadorians eat them with salsa de mani (peanut sauce).
A meal of llapingachos in Ecuador.


Curtido de cebolla y tomate: Onion and tomato salad


  • 1 large red onion
  • 6 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 5 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp salt



  1. Cut the onion into very thin slices (we used a mandoline slicer) and place in a bowl.
  2. Cover the onions with the tablespoon of salt and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes.
  3. After this, cover the onions with water and let sit for 10-15 minutes again. Rinse the onions and drain.
  4. Add the lime juice and a pinch of salt to the onions and let sit for 45 minutes. The onions should lose most of their acidic flavor.
  5. Once the onions are ready, cut the tomatoes into thin slices (again, we used a mandoline slicer to get them thin).
  6. Add the tomatoes, oil, and cilantro to the onion and lime mixture. Serve with the llapingachos and avocado slices.


Morocho: Ecuadorian sweet drink with corn


  • 1 can white hominy corn (can be found at most groceries stores in the Mexican aisle)
  • 6 cups milk
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/3 cup sugar



  1. Place the can of hominy (after being washed and strained) into a pot. Add the milk and cinnamon sticks.
  2. Cook on low heat for about 3 hours, stirring every now and then.
  3. After 3 hours or so, add the sugar and cook for 30-45 more minutes. The more time simmering will increase the cinnamon flavor.
  4. Serve warm.
Proud of our first llapingachos in Cuenca!

Sam – Reflecting on My Duke Gap Year


I had many new experiences during my gap year, I lived on my own for the first time, I took college courses in Spanish, I met new people and tried new things, but the takeaway that I will carry with me for the rest of my life is the importance of taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. Last summer, my plan was to live in Spain from late August until April. I was going to play hockey and take classes. By December however, I was a different person who wanted different things. I changed my original plan as new opportunities came up. I missed class to travel to Milan, Zurich, and the Canary Islands. Before I left for these trips, I often considered that I could just go some other time in order to not miss class and stick to my plan. These small adjustments had prepared me for the most consequential change to my plan that I made, the decision to forgo the rest of the hockey season and another semester of classes in order to go on a NOLS trip to Patagonia. Again though, I nearly didn’t do it. I felt like I was abandoning my original plan, like I was giving up, like I was failing. Even after I put down the deposit for the trip, I still felt like I had failed. It actually wasn’t until I was in Patagonia that I realized that it is not failure to change plans. I had grown over my gap year, and as a result I was ready to experience new things. I found an opportunity and I went with it, and as a result I had one of the best months of my life.

If you are planning to take a gap year, I guess what I am trying to say is that it is hard to tell who you will be 6 months from now, especially during a such time of personal growth and change that a gap year is. So, if you are part way into a plan that you made months ago and you begin craving something different, you should go with it. You haven’t failed or by changing your plan, you have actually grown to the point where you are ready for new experiences. This growth is much more meaningful than putting your head down and sticking to a plan that you made back when you were a different person.


End of Year Reflection

By Taddeo

One year ago, I was struggling with the decision on what to do with my year after high school. There was the obvious and easy path, simply attend Duke with the rest of the 2019 high school graduating class or push my back arrival at Durham for an extra year. The idea of a Gap Year both intrigued and frightened me, I knew that it would be one of the only times in my life where I could actively spend time traveling the world, immersing myself in new cultures, and meeting many different people. As I began to research all of the amazing opportunities and programs that I could pursue, my fears of feeling “rusty” in terms of academics quickly faded. I placed faith in myself that although the goal of my year would be to experience novel ideals and cultures, with goals to reflect on my own life, I would also keep my brain working with various scholastic activities, such as taking Spanish classes in Barcelona or creating a Capstone Project on the types of farming in East Africa. So, I took a leap of faith and applied to the Duke Gap Year Program; I had created a rough plan of what my year was going to be upon acceptance and the final step was to just go. I broke down my year with two semester long programs: ARCC East Africa in the fall, and EF Gap in Spain for the spring.

I left for San Francisco and ARCC in early September, I can still remember the mixture or nervousness and excitement going through my head. I had never slept in a tent before yet knew that for the next three months I would be in Eastern Africa sleeping in tents with 7 other students who I had never met. I soon realized, however, that my experiences in Africa would be nothing like what I expected. I told myself that I needed to let go of expectations and go with the flow. I spent my three months living in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania participating in service-oriented activities and learning about the cultures and the people who live there. My second semester, on the other hand, was very different in nature. Though I lived in homestays for both semesters, in Africa the goal of the homestays was to immerse myself in the unique societies, but in Spain it served mostly as a place to live and commute to classes. Not to say that I did not interact with my host family, but my relationship was mostly that of a friendly exchange student. I absolutely loved both of my semesters for being so different, and I believe these differences complimented my overall experience extremely well.

If my gap year taught me anything, it’s to actively try and put yourself in new, uncomfortable situations. Because it’s moments when you are out of your comfort zone that you learn the most about yourself and the people around you. I think that my experiences and struggles I faced will help me immensely at Duke and after. I definitely recommend taking a journal and putting yourself in those uncomfortable situations, so that you can write down your experiences and all that you learn about not only the world and people around you but yourself as well.