From Gap Year to Freshmen Year: Transition After TBB

Zach Shapiro is an alumni of our Global Gap Year 18/19 and is attending Ohio State University this Fall.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Zach!

As I prepare to move in to my freshman year dorm at Ohio State University next week, I have been feeling so many emotions. Excitement, anticipation, and a dash of nerves… All of the things that seem normal for someone to feel in that space right before they begin a new chapter in their life. And yet, unlike many approaching college freshman, underneath all of it is a hint of nostalgia as I think back just one year to when I was just as nervously preparing for my gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders. As I prepare to move all of my stuff into my dorm room, I can’t help but think about how I incredulously pondered how to fit all of my things into one bag which I would lug around on my back for over six months. And after all is said and done, how is this person who is entering college right now, different from the person that would’ve been entering college last year had he not decided to take a gap year?

One of the ways I’ve changed is gaining an increased willingness to be okay with not knowing everything. During this last year, I’ve learned to derive excitement and growth from my complete unknowing of what lay ahead of me. What would my home stay family be like? What would I be doing during my work placements in the fields of Guatemala, or the schools in Thailand, or the health clinics in Ghana? What would I eat for breakfast every morning? How would I occupy all of my time without a phone I could reach over and grab whenever I felt uncomfortable or bored? Every day during the program I received a few answers, and came up with a dozen of new questions. Now, as I think of all the questions I have about what my life will look like at college I feel exhilarated, not scared.

As I prepare to enter the classroom and the formal education system for the first time in almost sixteen months, I feel more eager than ever to ask questions, not just because I’ve been told that good students ask questions, but because my curiosity has developed rapidly as my both understanding of the world, and my understanding of how little of the world I really know, has increased. Thinking Beyond Borders has a motto “strive not to have an answer for every question, but a question for every answer.”  

In our seminars discussing sustainable agriculture, education, public health, international development and more we were urged to look at all sources critically and honestly in order to create space for ourselves to understand that truth is not always as black and white as we can be fooled into believing. This development of my own critical thinking skills will benefit me through college and far, far beyond.

We were also taught to thinking deeper about ourselves. Who am I? What do I care about and what do I stand for? As I enter into a university like Ohio State with over forty thousand undergraduate students, having thought meaningfully about these questions is incredibly valuable, because for the first time the responsibility will fall solely on me to seek out spaces where I can develop my passions and find the people that will bring the best out of me.

Had I headed straight from high school to college, I think I would’ve been pretty successful. Gotten good grades, joined cool clubs, and made good friends. But I wouldn’t have gone into school viewing myself as a citizen of the world before a student. Thinking Beyond Borders burst open my world and contextualized education for me. So, as I enter into college, it is already revealing itself to me as an opportunity to grow both personally and academically into someone who can change the world.