I want to spend my gap year expanding my horizons both physically and intellectually. I believe the best way to learn is by experiencing different cultures and communities. At the beginning of the year, I plan to travel broadly. Starting in October, I plan to participate in an 8-month program called Israel Experience at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel.
My first adventures were to visit the 49th and 50th states. For the summer I decided to be a counselor on a travel program for 10th graders. The teen tour began in July, and we first traveled to California. There we went to Yosemite National Park where we hiked and saw the grand sequoia trees. Next, we traveled to Alaska. Hiking on glaciers, wearing cramp-ons, white water rafting in Grade 3 rapids and experiencing white nights were some of the highlights. After Alaska we traveled to Hawaii. There, I went scuba diving for the first time, swam with sharks and hiked a volcano. Along the way, I tried to experience as much of the local culture as possible -including finding the best fresh poke food trucks in Hawaii’s north shore and trying the food at each of them. I consciously tried to disconnect as much as possible, be present, hang with the locals and appreciate the natural beauty of the places I visited.
As much as I loved seeing new places and meeting people who live so differently from me, it was also truly gratifying being viewed as a mentor to the teen campers. I got to offer advice, provide a shoulder to lean on and become friends with kids who are only a few years younger than me. It was incredible to be part of an experience where we started as separate individuals who didn’t know each other and transform, in only a few short weeks, into a tight-knit community who shared a common bond that we will share forever.
This week has been quite the journey as it marks my first time backpacking ever! Out of the 12 participants in the High Desert Center (HDC), we were randomly split into 3 groups of four. My group was a bit special as we had a special guest counselor leading us (a master minimalist backpacker) named Jeremy, along with his dog Mo!
During the 5 days we hiked through the West Elk Mountains of Colorado, and boy were they beautiful. But before we left basecamp in Paonia, we had to pack. Packing light is key in terms of backpacking so I only brought one set of clothes (day clothes for hiking, and warmer clothes for the night) along with 2 sets of warm wool socks. I had 5 packets of oatmeal for breakfast, trail mix and peanut-butter filled tortillas for lunch, and dinner consisted of either pasta with peanut sauce, curry, beans and rice, or mac-n-cheese. We cooked all of our food in a pot of boiling water over stoves that we made out of soda cans!
We averaged out hiking around 6.5 miles every day. During the hikes we were surrounded by beautiful tall, thin Aspen trees. Jeremy taught us how aspen trees are actually one single organism, meaning the tens of thousands of roots protrude from a single root system! In the fall, you can tell which aspen trees are a part of the same organism because the color of their leaves will change simultaneously. Besides being surrounded by these beautiful trees, along the hilly hikes we passed by lots of bear poop as well tons of berries. I love being able to eat what I can detect along the trail, so with the help of Jeremy, I identified and ate rose hips (not my favorite), thimble berries, raspberries, and (my favorite) huckleberries.
The hardest day was the 4th day as we hiked to the very top of the 12,752 ft tall Mt Gunnison. Though the hike up was very steep and especially challenging with a pack on, it was all worth it once we got to the top and I could see a panoramic view of all of the other Mountains in the region and beyond. My advice for anyone who decides to climb a tall mountain is to take a fat nap at the top, it hits different!
Overall, my first backpacking experience was filled with a lot of special memories, and though it was very challenging physically and mentally, there is something really special about living and existing out of only a backpack. It really made me appreciate all of the things we deem as “necessities” but are actually “luxuries” once getting back to basecamp. Thanks for listening and I can’t wait to share more!
I’m about to leave for an eighty day trek through Peru and Bolivia and, I kid you not, I’ve been packing for months. I’ve gone hiking and camping before, and I love being outside, but this trip is going to be more technical and intense than anything I’ve ever done. A large part of me is pretty terrified. To prepare, I’ve been training in the gym, reading up on Peru and Bolivia, and doing lots and lots of packing.
Packing for an outdoors trip is a bit different than other kinds of packing. This summer, as most of my friends were picking out and packing “twin XL” sized sheets and rolling up posters and printing photos for their college dorm room walls, I was testing out backpacks, wearing in new hiking boots, and, if I’m being honest, looking on with just a little bit of “FOMO” for the college first-year prep. But I know, all in good time I’ll be doing that too, and I’ve enjoyed the particular problem-solving, creativity, and discovery that my packing has prompted.
Spending hours at REI and in my closet, to ultimately cram socks and t-shirts and a journal and trekking poles and “wilderness wipes” (you can guess what those are for…) into my seventy-liter pack, has led me to a couple realizations. First, while seventy liters seems huge and imposing on my back and shoulders, it can also seem so small when trying to fit eighty days of necessities within its recycled nylon limits – my zero-degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag impolitely takes up a third of its space and there’s not much I can do about it if I want to sleep warmly at night!
My second realization courtesy of the packing process is that I’m going away for a long time and doing something way outside of my comfort zone. The drawn-out preparation process I’m going through has forced me to spend quite a bit of time thinking about what I’m getting myself into. I’ve accumulated enough “just in case” prescriptions (malaria medication, Diamox for altitude, Azithromycin for bacterial infections, etc.) to call my backpack a “traveling pharmacy,” and gotten new shots too (typhoid, rabies, and yellow fever). It’s very easy to apply for a trip – to sign up for something – but it’s not quite as easy to follow through with it. But, as I like to remind myself, risks and adventures are what make life worth living, and I know that this trip is the right next step for me. The line between nervousness and excitement is thin, and I am straddling it – boy is it exhilarating!
But third and almost counter to my second realization, in a way I’ve been “packing” for this trip my whole life. I’ve always held the belief that every new version of myself would not “be” without the existence of the previous. We go through phases in life; I was once a little pigtailed girl who played piano, made fairy houses, and cried at birthday parties, and later I was an iPod touch girl with My Little Pony leggings, and now I’m a goofy, outdoorsy, music-obsessed eighteen year old who still believes in bathroom humour. Though vastly different, each moment in time and each phase prepared me for the next. I probably wouldn’t love music so deeply if it weren’t for hours spent playing piano in elementary school, and I probably wouldn’t pick out the most colourful hiking gear for my big trip if it weren’t for my obsession with crazy bright leggings in middle school. Moving more specifically to skills that I’ll be taking with me on my trip and into the new era of my life that is beginning, I’ve found that my packing has prompted me to look inward and backward, and appreciate the preparation that I have been doing my whole life. This past year has been filled with goodbyes; I’m soon leaving my hometown, I’ve already left my high school, and there is so much more that I’m leaving behind. But, in the same way that each “old” me is a part of the “new” me, in a sense I’m not really leaving anything behind. Though the space in my physical backpack is tight and I’ll be packing quite sparingly, I can take all the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned with me in my head and in my heart, in my hands and in my feet, and in my bones.
I am nothing if not prepared. There is lots more to learn, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the many things that I have learned thus far.
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.