The past few weeks have been full of excitement at my house, as I am making my final preparations before heading off to New Hampshire for the next few months. I leave for Marlborough in less than two weeks now, and I am so excited to finally arrive! In case you haven’t seen my previous posts, which you should definitely check out, by the way, I’m heading north for a program called Gap at Glen Brook, a place-based gap year program that focuses on personal growth through a variety of experiences, including engagement with nature, building practical skills, and more.
Since October, I’ve been preparing myself in a lot of ways for this experience, which will be like nothing I’ve done before. I’ve never been away from home for so long before, never seen more than an inch of snow before, and certainly never canoed to another state before. That being said, I knew what I had signed up for when I decided to attend Glen Brook, and these “never-befores” are, at least for now, more exciting than nerve-wracking for me. In order to prepare to the best of my ability, I’ve had to do a great deal of learning about surviving New England winters, including everything from base layers to fleece hats to sleeping bags rated to 15°F.
There are also, of course, a lot of covid related procedures to follow in the lead up to arrival, and yesterday was the start of my two-week quarantine. Every day, I record my temperature, symptoms, and notes for the day to be turned in upon arrival, and I am limiting outside excursions to only the essential. I will also be getting another covid test next week, as will the other participants. Once we all arrive at Glen Brook, we will continue to social distance and wear masks for two weeks, and if no symptoms are shown, we will then transition into a domestic unit.
My next post will be written from New Hampshire, and I can’t wait to share more about the experience. Also, if you are curious about the program, check out their website: https://www.gapatglenbrook.org/.
I’ve always been fascinated with color theory. In fifth grade, I gave a presentation highlighting my limited understanding of how our eyes process color and how color mixing works. In seventh grade, I was enthralled with and inspired by a biomedical optics lecture. In high school, I found neuroaesthetics articles and immediately wanted to learn more. I plan to explore the intersection between art and science in the future, as these disciplines really fuel my passion for learning. I’ve begun to learn more about neuroaesthetics by reading and researching, and I hope to continue this exploration throughout college.
I want to explore more subjects related to my interests, so I decided to delve into graphic design. Venturing into Photoshop and other programs for the first time was daunting, but online tutorials helped me figure out the basic ins and outs of design. Working on graphic design can be tedious, but it definitely strengthens my attention to detail and my work ethic.
Sometimes, I’ll go outside to the local park to read or to complete my work. It’s a great way to get out of the house and to get some fresh air while continuing to learn. Without the stress of deadlines and exams, I’m finding more enjoyment in exploring the topics that I’m interested in, and I feel more motivation and excitement for my studies in college. I appreciate having the time to figure out how I learn best so that I can get the most out of my current and future studies.
As I learn more about graphic design, I’ve found that I can apply many of the lessons I learn to my everyday life. Ranging from the effects of color to the importance of negative space, these lessons change the way I consume media and influence my approach to choreography and dance. I’m really grateful for the chance to investigate different avenues during my gap year. With a more flexible schedule, I’ve been able to explore more about myself in order to figure out how to balance my life before starting college. As I continue my gap year, I hope to keep branching out and to find even more opportunities.
As one of the most turbulent and dangerous areas in the world, the Gaza strip is certainly a place myself and most Jews have learned about, at least in the context of its relationship with Israel. Before writing more about my experience learning about the conflict between Israel and Gaza, though, I thought I’d give a brief summary of how today’s circumstances came to be.
During the War of 1948, in which Israel won its independence, thousands of Palestinian refugees fled the war and settled in the Gaza strip. The territory ended up under Egyptian rule and stayed that way until Israel took control after the 1967 Six Day War. Over time, a number of Israeli settlements were built within the Gaza strip, but growing violent opposition convinced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that it was t
oo dangerous to continue the Israeli civilian presence within the territory. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, forcibly removing the Israeli residents from the settlements. After an election and military coup, Hamas, an extremist militant group, took control of the strip. Since then, constant rocket fire targeting Israeli civilians has led to several more violent confrontations between Gaza and Israel, leaving much of Gaza destroyed and in extreme poverty.
Until recently, my vision of the Gaza strip and its neighboring Israeli towns was largely abstract. Israelis have gotten so used to constant rocket fire from Gaza that it no longer seems unnatural, and because I had never actually met someone from Gaza, their reality to me felt like nothing more than a cautionary tale of what misunderstanding and unending conflict could do to a society. I felt almost numb to the fact that nearly 2 million civilians live in Gaza in some of the worst conditions on the planet and that the poverty and violence that exists there is so closely related to the reality I’ve been living for the past six months in Jerusalem.
This past weekend, my program took us on a tour of the towns neighboring the Gaza strip and introduced us to a number of people who’ve experienced the conflict on a more personal level. First we arrived in Sderot, a small city less than a mile from the border with Gaza. We heard from a woman who had lived near the border for over thirty years and also spent many years in Egypt, interacting with Arabs and learning about their struggles. After speaking about the need to work towards peace, she put us on the phone with a man named Ahmad who had spent his entire life in Gaza, unable to leave, and who spoke about the living conditions his community is faced with. As an academic who regularly interacts with Israelis and who’s attempting to lessen the tensions in the area, he is seen as a traitor to Hamas and has been arrested multiple times. Just being able to hear the voice of this man who many people see as an enemy simply because of the place where he involuntarily lives helped me see the urgency with which the conflict needs to be solved. After speaking to Ahmad, we took a tour of Israel’s defensive infrastructure with a Jewish man whose settlement was destroyed by Israel during disengagement. Throughout the tour, he didn’t hide his anger towards the attempted peace process and the Hamas terrorists who launch rockets into Israel every month. I was able to see inside Gaza through a telescope, and in one frame I could see farmers on the other side of the wall, with buildings with Hamas posters on one side of them and heaps of rubble on the other, and directly above the farmers high up in the sky was an Israeli balloon with surveillance cameras attached.
Apart from hearing about Gaza, we also visited a small kibbutz right on the border named Nahal Oz, and there we learned about the lives of the Israelis. Throughout our tour of the town, we saw tiny bomb shelters staggered around parks and sidewalks, and we learned about the PTSD almost all of the local children suffer from because of the frequent bomb sirens and the fear that at any moment their home could be hit.
After a two-hour bus ride, I returned to Jerusalem feeling incredibly privileged to have had the chance to visit this zone of conflict and to speak with people from all sides of the spectrum, and to have learned all that I did knowing I’m not in harm’s way. Spending this year in Israel has helped me make better sense of all that’s going on here, and it has pushed me to see the situation in Gaza as more tangible, as a conflict that today is impacting the lives of millions of innocent people, and as a conflict that is urgently personal and troubling.
As a quintessential Gen Z-er, I am conversationally impaired without my painstakingly-curated digital repository of stickers, emoticons and emojis. How could I not, when they have the power to impart shades and nuances that colloquial devices cannot effectively convey?
Responding playfully to a lame quip from a close friend with a terse remark lacks the theatricality of a flamboyant swivelling “OK” sign. A sprawling dead-eyed Kermit screams exasperation of an intensity that beggars description, infusing an impassioned rant with a much-warranted melodramatic tinge. And who could decline even the most onerous request at the heart-rending sight of a puppy with its paws clasped in earnest imploration?
When emails superseded texts as my dominant mode of communication for work and research, I balked at the cold, perfunctory exchanges. The striking absence of a warm human touch was discomfortingly at odds with my propensity for genuine, personal engagement. In a bid to lighten the tone of solemn discussions, I interspersed plain words with cordial smileys. But the bold attempts backfired, my well-intentioned overtures coming across as shallow and contrived.
Dismiss it as childish naivete if you must, but I refused to accept that this– sterile, dull and flagrantly pragmatic– was the immutable nature of work conversations and relationships. Thus began a series of strategic efforts to transpose these dialogues to the familiar grounds of WhatsApp and Telegram. There, with an extensive pictorial arsenal once again at my disposal, surely I would be better-placed to forge more meaningful connections?
Self-doubt and anxiety clouded the start of my endeavor. Was this appropriate? How would others react? Would my gestures be misconstrued? Preferring to err on the side of caution, I was conservative in my choices– especially with people many years my senior (boomers, basically)– carefully testing the waters before deciding to advance or retreat. It was a delicate balancing act that entailed not so much treading the fine line between the personal and the professional as constantly zigzagging across it, expertly adjusting the sails whenever the needle strayed too far off-centre.
Unapologetically nonchalant responses threatened to dampen my enthusiasm, but a handful of earnest reciprocations convinced me that it was well worth the effort. I am still not quite sure what to make out of these relationships, though. They continue to awkwardly straddle the ambiguous divide between work and life, suffusing me with guilt-ridden gratitude for reaping the practical benefits borne out of mutual amity, while evoking bouts of skepticism towards the other party’s intentions when the friendly exploitation becomes too blatant and overbearing.
I guess I’m starting to get a taste of office politics.
After I finalized my decision to take a gap year last spring, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this year were going to be. I had a feeling that I was going to be changing my plans a lot for the year and wanted to have a way to ensure that I still accomplished certain things. The list went as follows:
- Travel somewhere
- Engage in new ways in my community
- Meet new people
- Read more
- Form good self care habits
- Spend time with my family
- Get real world experience
- Go outside my comfort zone
- Improve my cooking
- Don’t be stressed
- Have fun
Looking at this list now, I feel like I am making good progress on every item, except for number 2. I put this second because I felt like it was something really important to me. Knowing I would be spending a good portion of this year at home got me thinking about how I could make the most of that. I decided that I wanted to find a new way to give back to the community I have called home my entire life. Especially now with COVID-19 and other crises facing us, I want to be able to look back on this time in my life and know that I stepped up. While I don’t know exactly what form this is going to take, I have been in touch with a few local organizations and am working on finding a couple volunteer opportunities to work on these next few months. I look forward to finalizing these plans very soon and hopefully having some cool experiences to share next month!
In the meantime, I am now back home from my time on the east coast, and have been enjoying spending my time outdoors (especially with my newfound appreciation for a California winter). I’m spending my time with my family and friends going on hikes, skiing, and even watching the Superbowl while having a picnic on the beach.