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Greetings from Marlborough, New Hampshire! The last time you heard from me, I was about to leave South Carolina on a multi-day road trip up north headed for Camp Glen Brook. Now, I am already more than halfway through the program, and I can’t believe how fast the weeks have flown by. Before I arrived, eleven weeks seemed like an incredible amount of time to spend away from home; definitely the longest period away in my life thus far. However, the remaining month and handful of days now seem like an insignificant amount of time that is rapidly approaching, whether I’d like it to or not. My experience at Glen Brook, although not yet complete, has been one of the most transformative and engaging periods of my life.
When we first arrived in February, each of the nine “gappers,” as we are called, had been quarantining at home for two weeks, and it took another ten days of masking up before we were able to enter the Glen Brook Bubble, a group of individuals who live on the property together and have taken specific and strict measures to keep everyone safe. Week one was our first intensive: Orientation. This involved giving up our phones when we arrived, not to get them back until the end of the first week. We also spent this first week getting to know one another, the land, and the daily ins and outs of living at Glen Brook. We learned to build fires, care for the dozens of chickens that reside here, use a wood stove, split wood, chop down a tree, and more. Again, it seems so long ago that we were first learning all these things. For the next two weeks, a period entitled Foundations, we continued building on those habits and daily activities that make life here at Glen Brook just that: Life. We attended Food Studies classes, carved wooden spoons with their bowls coal-burned into them, and we began some of our continuous classes. These include more cerebral classes, such as Society, Self, and Ecophilosophy.
Our fourth week here at Glen Brook was our second intensive and my favorite thus far: Orienteering. By the beginning of the week, we had packed up all our belongings into our suitcases once more in preparation of moving from the main house into the Hill House, our own home for the next month or so. All of this, minus what we had packed into our backpacks for the week, went into the parlor to wait patiently for us to return. On Monday morning, we moved down to a canvas tent by the lake, where we set up camp. Then, the real intensive began. Day one was an intro to orienteering: in groups of three, we used our compasses and maps of Glen Brook to navigate to three different coordinates and back to camp. On day two, we took it up a notch: we travelled to Pisgah State Park, the largest State Park in NH, where we split up into two groups, each trailed by one of our Gap Leaders, and had to navigate using our compasses and a topographic map of the area (no trails!) to two points in the park. Day three saw us in groups of three, this time without an escort, and we once more had to locate two points, the last of which was our meetup spot. The last day of orienteering was one of my favorites: the solo challenge.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been taking electives in various subjects, including Land Conservation, Food Studies, Nature Writing, Hat Making, Bow Drills, and more! This past weekend was also our third intensive, a backpacking trip along the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway. Now that we’ve returned, our next two weeks will be full of manual work, since for our Deep Dive, we’re going to be starting on some new cabins for summer camp! After that, we’ll have two weeks of Apprenticeships (I’ll probably be choosing Farm, especially since we are getting piglets soon!), then a week-long canoeing trip, then a few more days to wrap up and off we go.
It seems so sudden to me that I can already see the end of my time here approaching. Although before I arrived, I was slightly concerned about whether I would feel excruciatingly homesick, the opposite has been true. Glen Brook has been an incredible experience with some of the best people I have ever known, and it will be a bittersweet day to say goodbye for now. I know, however, that Glen Brook has transformed me for the better, and the way I can pay back that debt is by going out into the world and spreading the message I have learned here: we are all persons of consequence, our human nature is wild, and by sustaining that which sustains us “we can learn to see our selves as made up of the world—and in turn see our role in making up the world.”
The past few weeks have been full of excitement at my house, as I am making my final preparations before heading off to New Hampshire for the next few months. I leave for Marlborough in less than two weeks now, and I am so excited to finally arrive! In case you haven’t seen my previous posts, which you should definitely check out, by the way, I’m heading north for a program called Gap at Glen Brook, a place-based gap year program that focuses on personal growth through a variety of experiences, including engagement with nature, building practical skills, and more.
Since October, I’ve been preparing myself in a lot of ways for this experience, which will be like nothing I’ve done before. I’ve never been away from home for so long before, never seen more than an inch of snow before, and certainly never canoed to another state before. That being said, I knew what I had signed up for when I decided to attend Glen Brook, and these “never-befores” are, at least for now, more exciting than nerve-wracking for me. In order to prepare to the best of my ability, I’ve had to do a great deal of learning about surviving New England winters, including everything from base layers to fleece hats to sleeping bags rated to 15°F.
There are also, of course, a lot of covid related procedures to follow in the lead up to arrival, and yesterday was the start of my two-week quarantine. Every day, I record my temperature, symptoms, and notes for the day to be turned in upon arrival, and I am limiting outside excursions to only the essential. I will also be getting another covid test next week, as will the other participants. Once we all arrive at Glen Brook, we will continue to social distance and wear masks for two weeks, and if no symptoms are shown, we will then transition into a domestic unit.
My next post will be written from New Hampshire, and I can’t wait to share more about the experience. Also, if you are curious about the program, check out their website: https://www.gapatglenbrook.org/.
I live in South Carolina, where we have 47 state parks throughout the mountains, the midlands, and the coast, and visiting them is one of my mom’s and my favorite pastimes. During the pandemic, we have been visiting more frequently because this is one of the few ways to get out of the house, have fun, and still stay safe. Most recently, we visited Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina, which includes Caesar’s Head and Jones Gap State Parks.
On our last trip, we had finished looking around Caesar’s Head and hiking a trail across the road, and we decided to hike a trail that was further down the mountain on the side of the road called Wildcat Wayside. It’s a quick and easy trail with beautiful waterfalls and an interesting backstory. Wildcat Wayside, originally called Greenville Wayside Park, is one of a series of six Wayside Parks built in SC in the 1930’s by the CCC and the National Park Service. They were meant to serve as rest sites for those driving motor vehicles along the roads of the state. At the turnoff, you can climb up past the first waterfall to the ruins of one of the original buildings, which is missing its walls but still has its foundation, a working fireplace, and the remnants of a few drinking fountains. If you’re ever in the Greenville, SC area, it’s definitely worth the drive.
Not only have these trips been a lot of fun, but they are also a great way for me to prepare for the program I will be doing starting at the end of February. I’ll be heading up to New Hampshire for Gap at Glen Brook, where we will be learning about and experiencing a variety of different activities, including orienteering, canoeing, and more. Over the next couple months, my mom and I will hopefully be trying out some more challenging trails and exploring more parks and wilderness areas before I head up north!
As I’m sure all of us can attest to, this year has been one of uncertainty. I certainly have had to grow accustomed to not knowing what the next days will bring, which has been a difficult shift from the certainty of a school schedule. However, I have realized that uncertainty can bring opportunities that would have been far from possible with a strict schedule. Over the past month or so, I have been able to pick up long-forgotten hobbies and start volunteering at an animal sanctuary I had always wanted to visit, but never had the chance to. This month has brought a lot of new developments for me, and I’m excited to share these experiences with you.
For the past few months, I’ve been working in retail, and recently decided to cut back on my hours to focus on some of the other things I had hoped to work on this year. For example, I had studied classical piano for nine years before putting it down in freshman year to focus on school and theatre. With more free time on my plate, I have been able to start taking lessons again, and the joy I have felt over the last few weeks from practicing has been indescribable. I’ve also been able to start taking guitar lessons and continue with my voice studies, which had been put on hold due to the pandemic. It has been interesting to see the measures the studio is taking to keep students and teachers safe, and I can definitively say that singing with a mask on is a very new experience for all of us!
I also started volunteering at Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary, a rescue for farm animals about twenty minutes from my house. They have a variety of animals, from roosters to pigs to mules, and they all come from different backgrounds. Some of them have special needs and require care that they can provide, some are rescues from hoarding or abuse situations, and some are livestock rescues. They need volunteers to socialize their adoptable pigs and take care of different housekeeping tasks, such as scooping poop and filling water troughs. If you’re ever in the midlands of SC, come by and check them out!
My last exciting news for this month is that I have finalized my plans for the spring, and I cannot wait to get started on this new adventure. Come the end of February, I’ll be headed up to New Hampshire for a program called Gap at Glen Brook. The program lasts 11 weeks, and is focused on personal development and responsibility, sustainability, and nature. I’m a little nervous about the weather, since I’ve only seen snow a couple of times in my life, but I know it will be a new and exciting experience.
I’m looking forward to continuing on this path and starting a new experience come spring. There will be more updates to come from me, so stay tuned! I look forward to sharing these new experiences with you.
Today, I encountered a gorgeous northern water snake swimming up a creek. I had the day off from work, but didn’t want to spend hours holed up at home, so I decided to grab my lunch and head to the park for a solo picnic. I hopped in my car for the fifteen minute drive to Main Street, parked outside the courthouse, and wandered into the park with my shrimp bowl and soda in hand. I walked around the perimeter path, past families on the playground and retirees meeting up for a walk, until I reached a stone table along the creek bed that borders the far end of the park. I ate there, watching the snake swimming in the creek and the people walking by. As I sat there, I felt a calm like none I had experienced in the last few years.
Anyone who has been through high school, especially in the last few decades, knows the pressures of trying to get good grades and get into the right college. Sometimes these pressures can cause stress so immense that you cannot possibly focus on anything else, and it becomes impossible to take time to just be without thinking about the next project, the next plan, the next step towards your goals. When I was in 11th grade, this caused me to become so anxious that I ended up in counseling as a result of stress-related eating difficulties. I was so anxious that I could not eat. Although I eventually made it through that particular struggle, I had still not had an opportunity to exist outside the bounds of this environment. After deciding to take a gap year this year, I had ideas of what I could do that would make me more prepared for college or prepare me for my career, but as a result of the pandemic, I ended up working in retail. Although I have new plans for the spring, my fall has mostly been work and, more recently, volunteering at Carolina Wildlife Center, a local rescue. This has afforded me the chance to have days like today, where I could just exist and experience.
Beyond the horrors of the pandemic, I believe that one of the bright sides has been that people have been able to experience life without some of the pressures we have become used to. In many ways, we have been given a glimpse of what life could be like if we didn’t have such a culture of constant work without reward. Today at the park, I saw a family at the playground. The little kids were running around with Mom while the oldest sister and Dad sat at the picnic table, working on her virtual school work on her school laptop. Every so often, they would get up and join them. I can only imagine how much better the world would be if every so often, we got up from our work, not worrying about the status of our next assignment, but about the status of our soul.
When I made the decision back in May to join the Gap Year Program, I had grand aspirations and plans of working at a zoo, travelling the world, and learning a new language. While a global pandemic has certainly been enough to throw a wrench in all my plans, the past few months have shown me that sometimes, plans are made to fall apart. Without any further ado, here are three ways my gap year plans have changed, plus one way I’ve changed along with them:
- This is perhaps the most obvious of the three items on this list: No Travelling Abroad! One of the things I was most looking forward to about my gap year, and one of the main reasons I decided to take a gap year in the first place, was studying abroad. Although I may not be able to learn a language abroad, I’m definitely looking forward to taking some online classes and self-study.
- Another thing I was really looking forward to this year was my internship at Riverbanks Zoo, where I’ve been volunteering for the past four years. Unfortunately, the zoo cancelled all internships and volunteer programs for the foreseeable future, so I’m stuck waiting to see if things will open back up again in the spring. However, this has made me look more into other local opportunities, and I found a wildlife rescue and a farm animal sanctuary I had no idea existed!
- I got my first job! Now, this is something I never would have considered as part of my gap year, but after finding my year relatively unstructured, I’ve found that it makes every cent more meaningful knowing how much work goes into earning every penny.
+1. During this time of uncertainty and disorganization, I’ve learned that sometimes it takes a little uncertainty to figure out what you really enjoy in life and want to pursue, rather than just going through the motions. There are opportunities I had never considered, pathways I had never even dreamed of before taking the time to get away from all the pressures and just experience life. If I’ve learned anything from the past few months, it’s that sometimes, you need to take a step back, slow your pace, and examine what it is you really want from life and how your actions fit with this goal.
Hi everyone! First of all, I’d like to introduce myself and explain a little about what I will be doing this year. My name is Sara, and I’m from Lexington, South Carolina. This fall, I’ll be staying at home to take online audited classes, hopefully get a job, and volunteer with an animal rescue and sanctuary. In the spring I’ll be studying in Spain at the University of Granada, assuming I can get out of the country. Thanks, Rona.
This year has and will continue to be one of many firsts for us all. Whether you are starting college online or in quarantine, going into your senior year of high school not knowing what you may or may not get to experience, or entering the job market, not knowing whether a position in your field will even be available this year or the next or the next. We live in a very uncertain time, and taking a gap year means that the next several months of my life will be even more so. As a result of my gap year, I’ve applied for a job for the first time. I’m going to be leaving the country alone for the first time. This is the first time in over thirteen years that I haven’t had a set plan for the next few months. Everything could change at a moment’s notice. This also means that many of us will experience firsts not just for ourselves, but for the world as a whole. We’ve had virtual graduations, virtual concerts, virtual trainings, virtual hangouts, virtual, virtual, virtual. We’ve even had a toilet paper shortage where I live in the United States, who would’ve ever thought.
All this to say, this year will be one of change, uncertainty, and a lot of firsts, whether like me, you’re taking a gap year, or you’re off on a different adventure. I, for one, look forward to the challenges and the surprises of taking a gap year in the age of COVID-19, because if there’s only one thing I know for certain; one thing I’ve learned over the past few months, it’s that uncertainty can be frightening, but it can also lead to growth, new adventures, and a whole lot of firsts.