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Getting Going in the Big Apple

By Zachary

Despite the initial challenges posed by the pandemic, my gap year planning is looking very hopeful. I will split my gap year into two main sections: City Year and backpacking.
The main focus of the beginning of my gap year is a program called City Year, which is part of AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is a program that supports national communities through service. AmeriCorps’ mission statement explains that its goal is to “strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service.” The program I am doing in AmeriCorps, called City Year, has the goal of helping at-risk elementary to high school age students. The term “at-risk” refers to students who are in circumstances that would indicate a lower likelihood of continuing school or graduating. There are many factors that can lead a child to be designated as at-risk, such as poor attendance, major shortcomings in a particular subject, not having a place to go home to after school, etc. City Year’s objective is to help these students through individualized and long-term attention from those participating in the program.
Zachary before heading out for that day’s City Year training.


I will be serving in New York City, specifically in the “East New York Brooklyn Zone.” I will not know my assigned school or age group until the end of my three week Pre-Service Training, which I am completing right now, but I am very excited to learn where I will be placed. I joined City Year because I hope to make a difference with students at a time when they need it the most. I am lucky enough to have a way to participate in online classes, as well as parents with stable jobs . There are many students who do not have these luxuries, and they are at the most significant risk in terms of their educational development and longevity. 
The second half of my gap year is currently still up in the air. I would really like to go backpacking, but, because of the pandemic, a trip outside the country is not likely. Under the circumstances, I am thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I still have a lot of research to do, so there is still a chance I will not be able to hike the trail. My main concern is being able to finish before school kicks off at Duke in August. To do so, I would need to start on the trail earlier than when most people begin in April, since the trail takes 5-7 months to complete. I would like to avoid a winter start because it requires specialized equipment and the possibility of harsh and snowy conditions. However, if it is the only timing that would work, I might have to consider another trail to hike. The one other trail that I am researching is the Long Trail in Vermont, which is significantly shorter than the Appalachian Trail. If anybody has any suggestions for trails to look into, I would love to chat!

Zak – Two Weeks in NYC

Hello Blue Devils. Welcome back to my blog for the Duke Gap Year Program! This edition will focus on my first two weeks in New York City and the start of my gap year with the New York Times.
I always thought New York City was full of gravelly New Yorkers yelling, “I’m walking here.” You know, stuff like that. After moving here, I’ve actually found New York to be very similar to the Bay Area. Both share the same sense of ambition and self importance that makes people very career focused, busy, and therefore impatient. This is so prevalent in the Bay Area that New Yorkers seem warm and fuzzy in comparison (and they typically are). I think this definitely made my transition to the city a lot easier.
My first night in the city can only be described as tumultuous. Ambulances screamed past my window at ungodly hours and I discovered that even at 4:30am drivers still find something to honk at. Despite the noise, it’s hard not to feel the magic of New York City. The skyline is astonishing, the food incredible and multicultural, and nowhere else can you get on a subway and hear four different languages being spoken at one time.

Recently I started my classes with the School of The New York Times. The journalism based curriculum is definitely exciting, however, I find some assignments somewhat superficial. Still, I’m confident the classes will get better as the semester progresses.

Being on my gap year while Duke started was definitely hard for me. Watching my would be classmates move in and start their lives on campus was difficult and it was hard to not feel left out. At the same time I take comfort in knowing that while the class of 2023 is struggling with their homework and midterms, I can take a 40 minute subway and end up in Flushing (Chinatown), see a man dressed like a tree in Soho, or catch a free concert in Central Park.
I still feel like taking a gap year is a huge risk and I’m not yet 100% sure I’m making the right decision. However, I do definitely feel better about my choice than I did before I left. Stay tuned for more!