My last blog! It’s really long but I go into great detail to provide a complete summary of the whole year. I share why I decided to take a gap year, how the year went, how I felt at every stage and my concluding thoughts. The fact that I am submitting this blog a month late expresses what I am trying to say with this blog perfectly. This year hasn’t been perfect. Far from it. It was a challenge and it kept me on my toes, and that’s why it was better than my idea of perfect. This sounds cringe, I know… But if you read the blog it might make sense 🙂
February 2022 has been a month with many changes. Instead of staying in Spain until the end of May as previously planned, I made the decision to come home mid-February and begin a new adventure. So, on February 12th, I flew 12 hours home to Georgia.
February marks my fifth month here in Spain. By this time, I’ve settled into a routine—living with my host family no longer feels like a stranger’s home, and I think I could navigate the streets of Málaga with my eyes closed. However, while it feels like life has been relatively consistent recently, I’m still progressing language-wise.
These past few months, I have focused on travelling to cities of cultural and historical importance near me. In this blog, I share what I have learned and how I have changed through my experiences.
Though I enjoyed my winter break at home, I was ready to come back to Israel for the second semester of my gap year. Luckily, the quarantine requirements upon arrival to Israel became looser during the weeks that I was home. I originally expected to quarantine for seven days when I got back to Israel, but not long before my flight, the quarantine was reduced to just 24 hours. I stayed at an Airbnb with a friend on my program for my quarantine, then joined my program at KibbutzKetura, a kibbutz near Eilat in the south. A kibbutz is an Israeli settlement where everyone’s income is shared by the greater kibbutz community. Kibbutz Ketura is unique because it was founded by American students on Year Course, the same program that I am on, in 1973.
The festivities preceding the New Year seem to infallibly invigorate the public, promising boundless opportunity and thrill in the uncertain year to come. Clichéd adages of “New Year, new me” and “fresh starts,” timeworn yet timelessly dependable, harbinger a chance to finally implement ever-fleeting New Year’s Resolutions and secure a positive start to a brand-new year. On December 31, I, too, braced myself for a positive start to 2022—a “Covid-positive” start.
While engaging in my own undeniably rewarding ventures during the month of December, I encountered the challenge of increasingly comparing myself to my peers. As others shared insight into their exhilarating first semesters at college or riveting gap years teeming with activity, I found myself wondering whether I missed out on the idyllic experiences customary for a student my age.
I attempted to focus on conscientiousness and being present in my family visits, internship, and volunteering. All the while, however, my gap year bucket list elongated with the urgency of fulfilling as many items as possible before the year rapidly concluded.
With more goals accrued, discerning any progress with the list intensified in difficulty, along with keeping myself accountable to my fatally magnified ambition.
Feeling myself falling behind necessitated a time for resolve—an opportunity to take ownership of my goals presented by the prospect of a new year.
Nevertheless, the New Year clichés I now sought comfort in abruptly dissolved when, rather than “taking 2022 by the reins,” my father testing positive for COVID-19 compelled us into taking a Covid test and initiating two weeks of quarantine.
Although distraught by the apparent delay to the start of my new year and the concerning health implications engendered by my family’s COVID-19 exposure, I discovered the circumstances served as an occasion to reaffirm the validity and purpose of my gap year.
Throughout my January quarantine, I partook in seemingly trivial activities, from buying groceries to giving my dogs baths, all of which ultimately allowed me to delve into the original impetus for my gap year: the desire to develop my independence and heal following a harrowing, pandemic-ridden senior year.
As far back as I can remember, I have celebrated the eight nights of Hanukkah with my family in the US. I would always spend the first night with my extended family, and the other seven nights with my immediate family. But this year was different. Just like during Thanksgiving, I missed spending the holiday with my family. I decided that by eating latkes, or potato pancakes, which is a traditional Hanukkah food, I could feel more at home. I went to an outdoor market with one of my friends, but unfortunately, they didn’t sell latkes. In Israel, latkes are not traditionally sold pre-made, as families usually make them themselves, so my friend and I decided to make them ourselves. We bought oil, potatoes, onions, butter, matzo meal, and eggs. It took a long time to chop everything up and combine all the ingredients (almost four hours), but then came the fun part.
A bit of overdue reflection, as it pertains to my Spotify wrapped: It’s difficult to organize my thoughts on everything that’s happened over the past 12 months, so I thought I’d let my music do the talking.
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.
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.
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.
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.