The Value of TBB
By: Marion Herring (TBB Parent Alumni for Global Gap Year 19-20)
Molly grew up as an incredibly independent and driven child. She was always determined to make her own way, and she defined this way with her own conscience and ideals. She aggressively competed in the classroom, on the volleyball court, and at home with her siblings. She kept most people at arm’s length; she was “powerful, not vulnerable”. Her mother and I were not shocked when Molly stated she wanted to take a gap year. She had applied and been accepted to many great colleges, but she did not want to follow the typical path. She had discovered Thinking Beyond Borders through a friend who would soon be a travel partner. In her normal fashion, she had researched this program and presented it to us in a way that could not be refused. TBB offered a 7-month program traveling the world that also included reading, research, and discovery. Our expectations as parents were that she would safely travel the world, learn about different cultures, and discover more about herself.
At the trip’s onset, all of the parents and the Thinking Beyond Border students gathered in the hotel lobby at 4:30 a.m. in preparation for sendoff. We really had no idea what the next 7 months would bring. We only knew that we were placing our trust and our kids’ lives in the hands of the program and 2 program leaders. Molly was going to challenge herself, and she was challenging us to let go of one our greatest loves for a short time. She would have no personal phone, but we would come to cherish the time she could skype home at strange hours on the group shared laptops. We were truly out of touch, and she was out of reach.
Through her insightful blog (https://bravingthegap.wordpress.com) and our few calls, we saw the incredible experience and impact this program was having on her. She wrote of her struggle to be vulnerable. She stated, “It’s hard to expect meaningful relationships If I’m not contributing.” She was learning to depend on her friends and her homestay families because she did not have a perfect control of her environment, an unfamiliar and uncomfortable state for Molly to be in. She emphasized in her writing her experiences meeting incredibly strong women. Her Guatemalan homestay mom showed “grace, patience, and solidarity by leaning on other women in a sexist environment”. She was reinforcing her idea of standing up as a strong woman. “I’ve learned to stand safe and not stand down”. During the first portion of the trip, she had learned that vulnerability leads to more meaningful friendships and that she can stand up for what she believes in a relatively safe manner. WOW!
Molly would talk and write about how frustrated she was that, as students, they were not getting many answers to their questions. They were only creating more questions. What is power? What is poverty? What is justice? What truly helps a struggling environment or culture? What can I do to make a difference? She and her peers would test their own personal strength with such things as illness, blazing heat, language barriers, and difficult travel. Isaac and Kelly were incredible leaders, counselors and friends – helping these students find their way through unfamiliar worlds. As the trip was winding down, their fearless leaders reminded them, “do not let the extraordinary become ordinary.” They walked the ruins of Tikal, visited the giant golden Buddha in Nan, toured the killing fields in Cambodia and experienced the incredible sands and sunset of the Sahara. They had created indelible memories, had an amazing educational experience and took nothing for granted.
The gap year solidified Molly’s passion for travel, environmental issues, justice for women, saving animals, reading and writing. She gained strength in every aspect of the cultural, intellectual, spiritual and emotional experiences from this gap year. She claimed, “I’m a better student, better friend, and better person”. This program exceeded our expectations for personal growth, increased her desire to do good, and greatly increased her ability to tackle hard questions and to apply her knowledge to different situations. Her gap year was not easy, but it was truly invaluable. We are forever grateful to her course leaders and the TBB program for guiding Molly through this transformational experience and bringing her back home to us safely and forever changed. `