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.