Alumni Spotlight: Sidra Kennedy, Global Gap Year 2020

TBB’s 2020 Global Gap Year cohort returned to the United States on March 7th and completed their final program culmination on March 28th with a virtual graduation.  Below are some reflections from alumna, Sidra Kennedy, on her travels abroad and how she plans to incorporate her time with TBB into her future.

Sidra with her host family in Guatemala.

Sidra with her host family in Guatemala.

I made it back to America about 2 and a half weeks ago. We spent a week in DC meeting with various government agencies and NGOs, discussing the work we have been doing while abroad and how they (and we) can create real change. Some of these meetings were incredible, having in depth conversations about the complexities of development and defining poverty, while others were frustrating, as the people we talked with looked at us like little kids who didn’t know what we were talking about.

I think the week in DC truly encompassed my entire experience:  it was an incredible opportunity.  I grew substantially and it gave me such joy, but also challenged and frustrated me along the way. The trip was far from easy and I had a lot of rough patches. However, those typically weren’t talked about in my emails, Facetime calls or even now. In Thailand, we discussed the concept of a “saving face” culture (a culture which avoids the topic of anything that is unpleasant or embarrassing).  It wasn’t until I realized how little people at home knew the entirety of my experience on this program that I realized I play into the “saving face” culture too. 

With all my really cool stories of helping to deliver a baby, getting my nose pierced in the back of a t-shirt shop and bathing in the ocean for a full week, I also have many stories about feeling useless in my job, of feeling unworthy of my privilege and lonely without my support system at home. However, without all these challenges I wouldn’t have been capable of all the growth.

The truth is, it is inevitable to face adversity of some kind. We typically shy away from being vulnerable or open about what we struggle with, or in the context of millennials and Gen Zs, we make jokes to play it off like it isn’t a big deal. Both can and will be detrimental. We are all going through our own battles but what makes us grow and truly overcome them, is when we rely on others around us and accept that we can’t and shouldn’t be alone with it. I leaned heavily on my peers on my program, because in this context they were the only people who could understand.  I made it through because we were all in it together. From crying on a bus with everyone patting my back and trying to hug me, to running hand in hand across the finish line, it was all worth it. 

Without my TBB experience, quarantine would look like binging a bunch of shows everyday and staying wrapped up in my room. I would be tempted to break the rules of social distancing to see friends. I wouldn’t be able to be vulnerable enough to reach out to my friends or family when I need help. Or be aware of how absolutely lucky I am to be safe and to have a roof over my head and food on my plate each day.

There’s a lot I learned over this last year. While I knew the lessons I learned on the program had affected me, I didn’t anticipate how they would help me transition back home, even in this crazy time. Continuing critical thinking discussions through the book club my cohort started, to having already experienced major separation from my community, and learning healthy ways to process it, I’m incredibly thankful I got to experience my gap year before Covid-19 hit. 

The lessons I learned with me I now carry back to North Carolina and hope to pass along to everyone in my life the importance of vulnerability, the awareness of one’s privileged, correcting harmful ideas on poverty or what the “developing” world needs and so much more. And I wouldn’t be following through with holding onto my value of vulnerability if I wasn’t honest and admitted that I’m scared. Scared for life back with technology, forgetting the important lessons I learned, focusing on “first world problems”, the way my relationships have changed, people not understanding all that I’ve been through. However, if I have learned one thing from taking this gap year it would be ‘don’t let the fear of failure keep you from trying.’ 

Please remember that my experiences were specific to me and does not represent the entirety of the country or culture we were staying in. With that being said, I loved every moment and every town we stayed in. And of course, if you ever travel to any of these places please let me know and I can share some recommendations!!

As for my future, I am now relaxing with my family for the next 2 months (or possibly longer with COVID-19), and then will be heading off to DC to start my internship on the Hill with representative Lou Correa. In the fall I will be heading to Elon University as a Change Maker Scholar where I’m planning to double major in international relations and non-profit management with a minor in Spanish.

To read more reflections of Sidra’s reflections throughout her program, you check out her blog here.