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.
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!
I had been considering a gap year for some time before the end of senior year, but nothing had catalyzed my desire to take the year to focus on myself as the pandemic did. I’m creating and re-imagining ways of bettering myself to become more mentally prepared in the fall of 2021. Every day, it feels as though plans could be drastically altered, for better or for worse. I have always loved spontaneity in my life, and I will try to let each day take its course in creating an incredibly unique year, as well as learning from my successes and shortcomings.
This summer, I have been an intern at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) in the communications and media department. While VNSNY is not necessarily aligned with my academic interests, I have been able to find a niche and work with people with similar passions as my own. As part of my job, I have assembled and edited videos to be shown to staff and other employees. I have seen firsthand the incredible effort the entire organization put into managing the pandemic in the city. In April, I could not fathom the amount of work being dedicated by all the essential workers around the city to help save lives. Even the simple shared folder with photos to be included in videos gave me an idea of the bravery required to manage such a crisis. Seeing faces and humanizing the effort has been incredibly humbling.
My fall has undergone a change of plans. I applied to one of High Mountain Institute’s semester abroad programs, hoping to push the limits of my desire to explore. Having grown up in one of the world’s largest cities, wilderness and conservation have been relevant yet intangible topics in my life. From September 20th to December 8th, I will be backpacking, camping, and rock climbing in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. It was a sudden change in my plans, but I am delighted, honored, and extremely excited to be able to travel in the fall.