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Full Circle 

By Hannah

On March 11, 2020, I walked the halls of my high school for what I would have never guessed to be the last time. My sister and I celebrated the phone call we received that night that we would have no school for the next few weeks. And I think you know how the story goes…

On March 12, 2021, I walked the halls of California Northstate University in Elk Grove, California. A location I would have truly never expected to find myself, and definitely never imagined to be excited to go to. I was spending the day volunteering at the College of Pharmacy’s vaccination clinic, guiding excited people from the door to their seats where they would eagerly await their vaccine. I spent the day talking to people and hearing numerous stories of where people were a year ago. The air in the room was light and hopeful, it felt like the whole room let out a sigh of relief.

As I sat down in one of those seats to get the vaccine myself, I reflected on how far I’d come since that day last March. Just one year had passed, yet my entire outlook on my life had flipped on its head. Exactly a year before I was thinking about missing my prom and graduation. Now, I couldn’t tell you the last time either of those things crossed my mind. They feel so small now as I look back on the last 12 months and see what significant losses we have faced as a world.

I mentioned in my previous blog that I was hoping to find ways to step up and give back to my community. In addition to volunteering at a couple of different vaccination clinics, I have joined the Serve the Moment Service Corps. Through this program I have been distributing food to those in need in my area, writing letters to express gratitude to the frontline workers who have shown extreme strength for the last year (see photos below), and working with The Ella Baker Center who works both locally and nationally to help Black, Brown, and Low-income communities shift resources from prisons and punishment-based systems to opportunities that make our communities safe, healthy, and strong.

I have found this time I’ve spent at home to be very rewarding. I am doing work I would never have done otherwise, getting exposure to new issues and ideas and learning more than I could have imagined. It is allowing me to give meaning to this incredibly challenging time.

 

 

 

 

What’s Next

By Hannah

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: 

 

  1. Travel somewhere 
  1. Engage in new ways in my community 
  1. Meet new people 
  1. Read more  
  1. Form good self care habits 
  1. Spend time with my family 
  1. Get real world experience 
  1. Go outside my comfort zone 
  1. Improve my cooking 
  1.  Don’t be stressed 
  1. 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.   

 

A Day in My Life

By Hannah

After spending some quality time with my family over the holidays, it was time to embark on the next part of my gap year. After a dozen iterations of where I was going to be for the next few weeks, I am writing to you from Stowe, Vermont. I flew across the country the first week of January to live with my friend who I met on my semester program in the fall (and who is going to Duke next year!). With COVID-related restrictions becoming stricter in many places, traveling out of the country was out of the question. The two of us got talking a few weeks ago and planned to live together for a few months and spend our time cooking, skiing, and working at remote internships. While I’ve only been here for a week or so, I thought I would share what a typical day looks like.

 

Around 9 I wake up, have a cup of coffee (or two), and get dressed to head out skiing. I usually eat a quick breakfast before heading to the slopes to get a couple of hours in. I’m grateful that the mountains have made skiing possible this year, it has been such a nice escape to be able to safely do something I love.

Around lunchtime, we head in from skiing and make ourselves something to eat. After that, I spend a few hours working at my internship. Every day is different, usually I have a few meetings and then do some work after. Having this experience working at a start-up is another gift that this year has brought. I am learning a lot about working on a team and it has been really rewarding to see how my work contributes to the bigger picture.

After finishing up some work we work out and cook dinner. We’ve been experimenting with lots of fun new recipes and they have (almost) all turned out great. After dinner, we usually watch an episode of The Great British Baking Show or work on a puzzle.

 

While I can say with certainty this is not at all how I expected to be spending this portion of my year, it has turned out to be very enjoyable. If I have learned one thing throughout this time, it is that you don’t need to be in the coolest place to find meaningful ways to spend your time (though I must say, Vermont is quite beautiful). I would urge future gap students to keep this in mind. Wherever your year takes you, find a routine that gives you balance and meaning in what you’re doing. For me, that’s a mix of being outdoors doing something I love, and learning through real-world experience at my internship. Find what that means to you, and I guarantee your time will be rewarding.

 

Mid-Year Thoughts

By Hannah

As I approach the midway point of my gap year, I can say that this year has been nothing like I expected. This is definitely a good thing since I spent a lot of time preparing myself for things to fall through and for this year to feel like nothing more than a way to pass the time before college.

I am happy to say that none of that is the case. While plans did fall through and continue to change, this year so far has been rewarding to say the least. I thought I would take this time to check-in and compile a list of some of the things this year has made me grateful for.

Twenty things I’m grateful for…

  • That my family is healthy and has been able to work through these tough times.
  • That I had the opportunity to take a gap year.
  • That I’ve gotten so much extra quality time with my family this year.
  • My dogs.
  • All the people that hosted me and my 10 peers in Hawaii, Oregon, and California.
  • New friends and memories.
  • The instructors on my trip who put up with said 11 teenagers for two months.
  • Zoom and Facetime for keeping me connected to my extended family.
  • My grandparents.
  • The extra time to improve my cooking (see below for some of my recent favorites)
  • Driving around and looking at holiday decorations.
  • Good coffee.
  • Sunrises and sunsets.
  • The time I spend with friends, even 6 ft apart.
  • Being able to vote this year.
  • All the beautiful nature that’s so close to home.
  • All the adventures to come this year.
  • Being able to look forward to the next four years at Duke.

 

While this list is far from exhaustive, it captures what I’ve been thinking about lately. Even though I don’t know exactly what the next few months hold for me (I think I’m on iteration 6 of a plan at this point), I know that by the end of the year this list will only grow. I can’t wait to see how this year unfolds!

The Importance of Being Present

By Hannah

For the past 8 weeks, I have been traveling through Hawaii and the West Coast on an ARCC gap semester. While I could go on and on about why the trip was so special, there is one aspect that I noticed from the beginning which made for a very impactful experience: how easy it was to be present.

On one of the last nights of the trip my instructor asked us a simple question: if you could tell yourself 2 months ago, sitting in the airport, one thing, would you? And if so, what? Without a minute of hesitation, I knew my answer. I would not.

When I think back to sitting at the airport on September 15th, looking at the top halves of the faces I’d spend the next 2 months with, I was overwhelmed to say the least. My mind was spinning with expectations, first impressions, fears, and hopes. I knew nothing for sure. I had no idea how the next 2 months would go and I had hardly read the brief itinerary I had been provided. All I knew was that I was there. So I let myself sit with that unknown and enjoyed the sandwich and coffee I had just bought myself.

Flash forward 3 weeks and I’m sitting in Hawaii after a long day of scuba diving waiting to be handed my phone (they take them for the first portion of the program), and I’m completely dreading getting it back. Spending such an extended period of time with no connection to home, to the news, or to anything besides the exact moment I was in was incredibly refreshing. I could feel myself being less stressed and more able to focus on the present. I also loved carrying around a real camera instead of my phone (I’ve attached some of my favorite moments I captured).

 

 

Because I didn’t know very much about the itinerary and had no way of knowing what the future held, I was able to spend every day focused on nothing but that day. Each day brought a new adventure, new conversations, new challenges. And I wanted to soak up as many of those as possible. I did my best to not think forward, to not worry about what we were doing tomorrow or next week. If I had told myself anything at the airport that first day, I’m not sure I would have been able to go through the program as I did. The combination of not knowing what was next and being disconnected from everything was such a gift and allowed me to really make the most of my gap semester. Now that I’m home, I hope to find ways to disconnect and be as present in my life here as I was while I was gone.

 

 

 

Getting Ready To Leave

By Hannah

I was always the kid who would stay up all night before any kind of trip. Whether a field trip with my school or a family vacation, the idea of going somewhere has always excited me. This time around, it’s more than one night of excitement. Considering what the world and my life have looked like since March, I can’t begin to express how much I look forward to stepping on a plane in 7 short days.  

In exactly a week, I will be making my way—mask and negative COVID test in hand—to spend two months exploring Hawaii, Oregon, and California. I will be camping the whole time, living with 12 others from around the country. We will be spending two weeks in quarantine on a macadamia nut farm before exploring the Big Island, getting a scuba diving certification, hiking, surfing, volunteering, and more. Then we will make our way to Oregon where we will visit national parks, take a Wilderness First Responder course, and work with many different organizations as we make our way down the coast before ending in Los Angeles.  

While the itinerary makes the trip enticing, the part I am most excited about is that I will be doing it all with a completely new group of peers. It’s been hard saying goodbye to my friends from high school and watching them as they head off to college and meet new people, so I’m looking forward to doing the same. At the same time, this is also the part I am most nervous about. Going into this not knowing anybody feels like a bit of a leap of faith, though I have no doubt it will pay off.  

 

 While I spend this last week at home balancing the conflicting emotions and the struggle of packing my tent, sleeping bag, snorkel, and everything else into one duffel bag (the picture shows a fraction of what will need to fit), I still feel those same night-before-trip-jitters. I can’t wait to embark on this journey and am really grateful to have the opportunity to do so! 

 

 

 

Deciding to Take a Gap Year

By Hannah

I clearly remember sitting at my brother’s high school graduation three years ago and thinking to myself, “I’m going to take a gap year.” I had never really heard the term until that year, but as soon as I saw his peers thinking about taking one, and some ultimately choosing to do so, the idea was locked in my mind. Since then, I’ve followed Instagrams and blogs of friends who have decided to defer their college admission, researched an endless list of gap year programs, and found myself drawn more and more to the idea of spending a year exploring and learning minus the stress of being in school.  

When it was my turn to apply to colleges, I kept these ideas in my mind but decided to make a final decision once I knew where I was going. For the first few days after I got my acceptance letter to Duke, I was so eager to move to Durham and join such a vibrant and passionate community that I told myself I couldn’t wait a year to start. Yet once the initial excitement dissipated—and the reality that my freshman year would be significantly different hit me—deferring was an easy decision. I always knew it was something I wanted to do, and I do not doubt that I made the right choice. 

Choosing to take a gap year was the easy part because once I decided, it became time to plan. In any year, trying to plan out a year would be tough. This year, I don’t just have the challenge of picking a program to join or a place to explore. I also have to consider whether a program’s COVID-19 precautions are sufficient, I have to have backup options, and most of all, I have to be comfortable with things changing at any time.  

After many iterations of an itinerary for the next 12 months, I concluded that “planning” this year has an entirely different meaning. There is no way to predict what the world will look like in a month, let alone 12. I’m learning that I need to be okay when things change and leave a lot of room for uncertainty. 

I’ve realized that even though it doesn’t seem like it, this may be the exact gap year that I need. Being able to make the most of an uncertain time will surely teach me more than anything else. In 5 or 10 years, I won’t look back at my gap year for the things I did or places I went (and honestly, I don’t know how well I will remember the specifics anyways). I hope, though, that I will look back at this time and realize that regardless of what I did or where I was, my gap year significantly impacted my life through college and beyond. I may not be able to travel to the coolest places or do all the things I had hoped, but I am confident that I will be able to grow as a person and gain as much from this time as I would have any other year.  

I look forward to sharing more updates on my year in the coming months!