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Colourful Enlightenment

By Aryaman

This Diwali was so different from all others. This was the first time I celebrated this festival away from my hometown and with my maternal grandparents.

As I walked around the bazaar in Paratwada, I got lost in a world I had barely seen—India.

Street vendors selling Diwali festivities were littered around every corner of the bazaar. The buzz of the crowd was so loud I could barely hear my own voice as I struggled to find the space to walk through. It seemed as if the whole village was outside—celebrating, buying new clothes, sweets and gifts. In this space of shared happiness, the town felt alive with joy—as if everything else had stopped so that people could come together and celebrate life.

Up till now, my experience of Diwali had been completely different. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of the city the festival had lost its soul. To a large extent, Diwali felt like just another time of the year when you do what you do and just get done with it. Every year, we would follow the unnecessary customs as quickly as possible so that we could return back to our normal life. In the Blacks and Greys of my modern city, the colors of Diwali didn’t fit in.






However, standing in the middle of the market, surrounded by hundreds of shops and stalls selling artistically designed Diyas, ornate Kurtas and new Rangoli colors, I felt complacent. A tourist in my own nation, I walked around the streets of Paratwada endlessly, in awe. I was seeing shades of India which had eroded away from my life.

As the day passed by, one by one, families started to come out in the street dressed in beautiful traditional clothes to place Diyas in front of their houses and to embellish the Rangolis which decorated their gateways. Each house began to turn on its unique display of festival lights and, before long, the sky was sparkling with every color imaginable.


For the first time, I consciously saw the India I heard of as a child. The one I had only read about in history books. An India where people wholeheartedly celebrated the unnecessary customs and traditions of the Indian subcontinent.




Seeing the beauty of Diwali in Paratwada has made me question the boundaries of behaviour I had so eagerly defined for myself. Despite India’s colorful history of the previous 7800 years, my Indian identity has been defined by the subsequent, solitary 200. However, till recently, I didn’t truly understand the effect colonialism had on my life.


I grew up in a city where I constantly heard of a better world. As I struggled to pronounce the language I was supposed to speak, or figure out the clothes I was supposed to wear. I learned from western TV shows. Not only how I was supposed to look but how I was supposed to behave. I grew up without understanding the perpetual dilemma of the duality of India’s post-colonial society. I didn’t understand why English was the “superior” language and or why our lives revolved around what was happening in the west. Though I had read the history of Colonialism, I hadn’t truly understood the effect of my internalized inferiority.

Slowly, I got further institutionalized into the systems which were created by my oppressors, I bleached all aspects of my personality and got rid of the disease that was my Indianness.

Both me and my city have become more western over time. The cultures and lively attires which littered each corner of my country have now been whitewashed into the black and greys of my “modern” city. This western culture in India has not been adopted, it was violently imposed as the whole country became subservient to another for more than a century.

One of the reasons I took a gap year was to truly understand myself, and now, I have realized understanding myself also means making sense of my complicated national identity and how that identity advances the biases with which we have created our systems of subtle oppression which I, till very recently, believed bettered my life.

Post Diwali

The horrors of colonialism continue to haunt my country—and much of the world—today, but this Diwali, on the victory of light over darkness, I saw the dying glimmer of Indian culture in the back of my mind and I learned to truly embrace my identity.

Random Traveling



Una Vida Diferente

By Ally


“Two staple dishes in aSpanish household. Paella (left), Tortilla & salad (right). Paella is a seafood dinner that typically includes rice, various shellfish, chicken, saffron, and vegetables. Tortilla is a potato, egg, and onion dish. My host family puts lots of time and effort into making our dinners—cooking is considered their down time!”
“A peek into thecoffee shop“Café con Libros.”It’s become my tradition to come here on Saturday mornings and read—today I’m reading a children’s chapter book called El Soñador. It’s a cozy place. And more importantly, they have great breakfast crêpes.”

It’s been five months since I walked across the high school graduation stage-a fifteen step journey that commenced the adventure of this year. I’m now sitting on a multicolored couch in the corner of “Café con Libros:” a slice of coffee shop solitude I’ve found amidst the infinitely busy center of Malaga, Spain. To my left is a heap of Spanish books, and through the partially open window to my right is “La Manquita:” the only partially built cathedral that seduces tourists with its renaissance architecture. Last week marked one month of my stay in Spain, but I still feel like I’m getting settled here. The culture, although western, feels so unfamiliar. Water here costs money. It’s considered strange to leave a tip at restaurants. My Netflix has changed to Spanish. It took me ten minutes to figure out how to properly flush the toilets here. We walk everywhere. Public transportation isn’t as confusing as I once thought! Everything is closed on Sundays, and there’s a Catholic church around every corner. 21 degrees Celsius means 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Bread is a part of every meal. Dinner is at 21:00, which means 9pm. And lunch is at 3pm. We dry our clothes by hanging them outside.

It’s October, and Christmas decorations are already up. The birds are green here. People wear jeans in 80-degree weather. Fruit is eaten as dessert after every meal. There are outdoor, public gyms! No buildings use air conditioning, and the windows in our house are never closed. Spaniards are incredibly friendly, but they also speak incredibly quickly. People dance… a lot. New foods have not disappointed! Dogs are everywhere, and somehow they’re all perfectly behaved. The pigeons are a little too comfortable around people. Showers longer than five minutes are frowned upon. We’re not supposed to walk barefoot inside the house. Nobody uses crosswalks. Kissing your friends hello and goodbye is the norm. Sunsets are incredible here. Shops and restaurants close for “siesta” every afternoon. Parking only comes in one form: parallel. We use tote bags and fanny packs instead of backpacks. There are street musicians and artists galore. Scooters and bikes are everywhere. I don’t leave the house without a deck of cards in my purse. American accents are very distinct in Spanish, apparently.


“The view of Málaga’s outskirts from the top of a popular hike up Mt. San Antón.”

I love it here. It’s so different, and I feel so out of place sometimes, but I’m starting to befriend the unfamiliar. Living with a host family has allowed me to experience an authentic Spanish lifestyle, and I’ve met people from across the world. My roommate is from Japan, and my group of friends span Europe: Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium. These people have taught me so much about their home countries and different cultures, and I learn something new with every conversation. It’s fascinating. Learning a new language comes with its challenges, but I’m able to see improvements in my Spanish every day—I (hopefully) successfully gave someone directions to the bus stop yesterday, and I understood 80% of Crepúsculo (Twilightin Spanish). It’s the little successes that count! It’s been a month of growth and discovery, but I still have so much left to learn here. I can’t wait.

Introduction to Israel

By Charlie


As I hoped going into my gap year, I have already started to learn things I never expected. I did my laundry in a communal laundry machine, bought groceries at a nearby supermarket, and traveled on planes, trains, and busses. Each of these things was further complicated due to the need to navigate a foreign language and another country’s COVID-19 protocols. I also spent a week quarantined with three new friends in a room the size of a large closet.

When I signed up for Year Course, I was not expecting the cultural differences to be such a key factor. I am staying in Jerusalem on the Kiryat Moriah campus, which not only houses Americans, but also Canadians, Guatemalans, Germans, and Israelis.

The cultural differences exist outside of my campus as well. As expected, I am learning more about Jewish heritage and Israeli history in courses and tours. One of my most interesting courses, “The Politics Behind the Conflict,” addresses more than just Judaism. In our first meeting together, we went on a day-long tour of the four quarters of the Old City: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim. We saw areas of the Old City in this class that many tourists never take the time to see.

(The Old City)
(Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre)

Although there are restrictions on who can go inside the Dome of the Rock, we were able to walk around outside of it and learn about its significance. I also walked through the Shuk (an outdoor market) in the Muslim Quarter, where we learned what it is like to live in the Old City. Surprisingly, despite different beliefs and cultures, the Old City is a very peaceful place, and the people usually get along.

(Western Wall)


I walked through the narrow streets of the Armenian Quarter while I learned about the Armenians’ relationship with the Jews.

I also visited the Western Wall, which is the holiest place in Judaism because it once surrounded the First Temple.

In the Christian Quarter, I went inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Although there was not a line to enter and the church was mostly empty, it was impossible not to appreciate the significance of the location.

My gap year in Israel has exceeded expectations so far, and I cannot wait to blog more about my time here in the coming months.

So Here I Am, Starting

By Grace


Training to be an EMT was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.

It was also one of the hardest.

Photo taken by David Morgan on September 16th at the Wyss Medical Campus

For six weeks, my classmates and I spent our Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays together, motivating each other through ten-hour lecture days and seemingly endless back boarding sessions. We made it through 36 hours of ambulance ride-along, a day-long event lovingly referred to as the “EMT Olympics,” and a simulated nine-patient Mass Casualty Incident. 

We did all that, yet when all was said and done I felt nowhere near ready to work on an ambulance and take the lives of others into my own hands. Although I passed the national EMT exam (the NREMT) and volunteered with ambulance companies in the Bay Area, the terror and uncertainty I felt when treating patients prevented me from actually signing contracts with any of them.

Instead, I enrolled in NOLS’ Wilderness EMT semester program.  

Although I told family members I was going for the wilderness aspect of the program — which, don’t get me wrong, is incredible — I signed up because I didn’t feel confident in my ability to care for others, and thought that relearning the material would help.

A month later, I packed everything I had into two duffel bags and headed off to Wyoming.

Again, I met peers who motivated me to be my best. Again I practiced skills for hours on end, spent nights sorting through simulated Mass Casualty Incidents, and made it through “The Room of Doom.” 

I did all that, and yet at the end of the third week felt no more confident than the day I graduated from my last program. 

Yes, I was a better EMT than before, but that didn’t translate into increased confidence at the thought of actually treating patients. 

At first, I was disappointed. How can I do all of this, I thought, and still fell unprepared? 

Photo taken by David Morgan on September 23rd at the Wyss  Medical Campus
Photo taken on October 7th at the Wyss Medical Campus



However, as I kept on thinking about my trepidation, I came to a realization — up to this point in my life, I haven’t really put myself in positions where I feel unconfident. I practice speeches until I can’t get them wrong, switch hobbies when I hit plateaus, and rip the “bad” drawings out of my sketchbook before I show it to people. It was a crutch I could get away with when I was younger, but now it actively prevents me from doing the things I love to do. 


Confidence, after all, doesn’t come without experience. And experience, at its core, is making bad decisions, messing up, and learning how to do better next time. In order to pursue the things I love doing (EMT work included), I need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I need to be okay starting where I am, and improving from there. 

I’m writing this on a bus to Utah, an hour away from putting on a 50-pound backpack and embarking on a month-long technical canyoneering expedition. It’s something I’ve never done before, which seems as good a place as any to practice what I’ve just preached. 


So here I am, starting. 

The Bucket List

By Mariana

Years of cultivating finesse in the written word, hours aspiring to hone artistry and professional flair under the vigilant scrutiny of various high school writing instructors,

[El Pasolandscape]

only to now concede in sheepish musing, “wow, I thought this blog would be a little bit easier to write!”

Minutes into developing my ideas for this blog, the seemingly consequential nature of my gap year struck me. A year-long hiatus from everyday academic responsibilities signified an opportunity for a respite—a breather, so to speak—right? After all, my intentions in taking a gap year initially comprised of my desire to heal after an arduous, pandemic-stricken senior year.

However, with the prospect of a gap year, the unknown stirred within the tenebrous abyss of my notes app. A bucket list emerged, compelling me to pursue a prolific gap year and relish every moment, this blog is a testament to my endeavors and inevitable growth.

During the fall semester of my gap year, I anticipate assuming this almost allegorical journey from my humble, yet vibrant hometown of El Paso, Texas. I further hope to utilize this platform to welcome you as companions as I traverse through “The Bucket List” (not to be confused with the 2007 film, “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.) Strap in as I guide you through my best attempt at chronicling my gap year, and hopefully we will encounter some incisive wit and profoundly earnest discoveries along the way.


[Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy office (front door)]
A Taste of “The Bucket List”

Fulfilling my position as a fall intern for the Detained Team at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center occupies perhaps the most pivotal item I initiated from “The Bucket List” during the month of October. As a volunteer for the pro-bono provider of legal services to immigrants throughout the world, I manage and log interviews with detained clients in our border community, engaging in poignant conversations with refugees about their harrowing cases for asylum, plagued with injustices. My role with the organization remains one of constant emotional learning in commiserating with detainees as human individuals worthy of the benevolence and courtesy often deficient in the immigration system.

[Potted Flowers]

“The Bucket List,” peppered with diversions and odd pastimes, accommodates the hobbies of guitar-playing and gardening, both in which I lack experience and partake in sparsely on my free time. Amidst hours of YouTube tutorials, callusing fingertips, and the tragedy of an already broken string, I gradually attuned myself to the nuances of playing the guitar as successfully as most beginners (not too successfully, I imagine). As for the four potted plants I now own, I plan to continue to nurture them as my unusually aged children, upon whose life cycles winter rapidly approaches.


Looking Ahead

Of course, I expect the banality of “smooth-sailing” to apply detachedly to the year ahead. Within one month, I have walked into a door, to the dismay of my now-bruised nose, and potentially contracted esophagitis from swallowing a pill incorrectly. Needless to say, my days of braving pills without water are behind me (by about five days.)These minor physical misfortunes, however, also parallel my doubts. Already, the urge to leave satiated from this gap year perturbs me. However, never has my life felt more in my hands than at this moment—an irrevocable opportunity I do not seek to waste. While the dozens of items on “The Bucket List” may beseech my attention, I recognize the exhilarating dynamicity of the year before me, teeming with learning curves and moments that contradict the perception of some gap years as flashy and idyllic. I thus hope to approach this time with authenticity, no matter how many items I cross off “The Bucket List.” Perhaps this year I shall accomplish the extraordinary, or perhaps I will challenge convention with the conventional, finding the beauty of the taken for granted.