Alumni Spotlight: James!

Meet James, an alumni of our Latin America Spring Gap Semester 2018!  James is now attending the University of Richmond, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and Economics.
How has your gap experience influenced/contributed to your academic and professional goals?
My gap experience taught me that I should strive to be my own person and accept that it is ok for my interests to diverge from the status quo. Prior to my three months in Central America, I felt whetted to a course of study and professional pursuit common among my family and peers. I was uncertain and afraid to follow my instincts. My gap semester encouraged me to embrace my individuality and challenge my preconceived notions not only about myself, but also about the world around me. It encouraged me to accept myself for who I am and what I enjoy. I decided to major in political science with a focus on comparative Latin American politics. I conduct research on both indigenous inequality and criminal violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America. This past summer, I interned in the highlands of Guatemala working on development projects with indigenous communities. It is my hope to work in the foreign service, international development field, or pursue further study to help advance knowledge in my respective field. Upon my return to Guatemala this past summer, I met up with our old host families and I picked up where we left off. TBB made me more an active learner and inspired me to take control of my life by helping me realize I can contribute to the world in a feasible manner.
How did your gap year influence your approach to social justice?
How much time do you have? It is quite remarkable how much a TBB student learns. When traveling or discussing development, I am always asking questions. Is this strategy promoting structural inequality or path dependency? How does weak state capacity relate to the history of the past? Can social justice be accomplished through aid and the outsider model? What role do I play in this injustice? TBB has encouraged me to be a social advocate for people of all backgrounds. I am now aware of when I am oppressing a certain group, which is often done unconsciously, and know the strategies to help contribute to empowering groups of oppressed people instead of harming them. I am dedicated to the study of colonialism, neoliberalism, and civil war and its impact on indigenous people in Guatemala. My gap semester taught me that development and social justice is a web of complexity, of which I can play a positive role, but I can also be a limiting factor. I admire those who speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and I am inspired by TBB’s mission to create global citizens who ask difficult questions.
What’s one piece of advice you’d have for anyone considering taking a gap year?
Do it. Run, don’t walk. Not only did I meet some of the most important people in my life, but I learned what I am passionate about. I learned how to confront challenges, get out of my comfort zone, be adaptable, communicate effectively, give strong feedback, and how to think critically about the role I play in this big, connected world we live in. I gained mentors and best friends and a second family in both my group and host family. If you want to sit in a circle talking with inspiring people from all walks of life and have the most impactful conversations of your life applying concepts you learn in the classroom and the field, then go. If you want to understand that your way of thinking and personal philosophy right now is not the only way of living and that you may find alternative ways that make you happier, then go. If you want to grow as an individual, then go. If you want to learn how to play ultimate frisbee and then play it in college because of your amazing program leader, then go. If you are someone who has been held back in the past by fear and consuming thoughts, then go. Don’t think, go, and thank me later.
Thanks for sharing with us, James! 
If you’d like to speak with an alumni of our programs, reach out to us via [email protected]