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To all of the incoming gap year students,
To start this letter, I want to congratulate each an everyone one of you for getting into Duke and deciding to take a gap year. I’m sure that the vast majority of your friends are going straight to college, and the decision to take a year off was probably a tough one. As excited as I was to take my gap year, I went through a lot of the feelings that I’m sure have crossed your mind at least once by now. I had this underlying sense that I was falling behind. That in not going directly to college, I wasn’t going to have the same experiences as my high school friends.
While I know now that I am in no way “behind,” I was partially right. My first year away from home was vastly different from all of my friends. Although, different does not mean worse. I promise your experiences will not be the same as those of your friends. During my year in Granada, Spain, I traveled solo, met people from over 30 different countries, learned a new language, and found lifetime friends. I had an unforgettable time that sparked a love of travelling that I doubt I’ll ever lose.
The biggest changes I faced weren’t what I expected. I thought the initial language barrier or even the food would be the biggest difference between my life in the US and my life in Spain. First of all, you will be going from total structure to absolute freedom in a matter of months. Coming from high school, you will be used to days jam packed with classes, extracurriculars, and other responsibilities. On your gap year, you will have find your own balance between planning and spontaneity. The other main change in my life were the people I spent my time with. I was used to mainly being around other high schoolers. In Spain, I had friends from everywhere all with unique backgrounds and experiences. Everyone was in completely different stages of their lives. Some days I watched a Spanish reality singing competition with my 15 year-old host sister while on others I got tapas with my friend who starts medical school in the fall. On your gap year, you are going to be around a wide variety of people no matter where you choose to go. I’ve learned that forming relationships with people that don’t have your same life experiences makes you into a great listener. It opens your mind to new points of views you may have never thought of before.
So, to the next cohort of gap year students, I promise you will end the year more self-assured and open-minded. Remember to be patient and flexible, because if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that plans can change suddenly.
As my first month in Granada draws to a close, I am so grateful for all of the amazing places I’ve visited and excited for what’s to come. Yesterday, I visited the Alhambra for the first time and can now safely say that photos do not do it justice. I have never seen such a beautiful collection of incredible palaces, historic ruins, and picture-perfect gardens.
Over the last month, I have run into the typical obstacles expected of studying abroad. I still get hungry in the afternoon and then quickly remember dinner is not until 9:30. I’ve had days where I can hold a conversation with a native speaker without missing a beat. I’ve also experienced times where I can’t recall a word in Spanish or in English.
I am so glad I chose to live with a host family, instead of in a dorm or apartment. In my host home, I get to see the day to day experiences of a typical Spanish citizen. Additionally, I get to constantly practice speaking Spanish. After only a month, my host mom says my Spanish has drastically improved. Initially, it was definitely very strange to be living with a family that was not my own. However, as the weeks pass by, I find myself participating more in conversations and joining the fun whenever a soccer game is on. As a huge soccer fan, I was lucky to see Granada, the clear underdog, defeat Barcelona. The four of us in the living room could have been mistaken for an entire stadium as we yelled at the TV whenever something exciting happened.
So far, I have had no doubts about my decision to take a gap year. I can’t imagine another time in my life when I could study and intern abroad for an entire year and I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity.