My Gap Year Fostered My Ability to Create Opportunities

Jamie Spence, a 2014 Global Gap Year and Barnstable High School alumna, now studies at Fordham University. Here she discusses why transitioning to college was easy after her gap year, dealing with the inner-conflict that she felt while working in communities abroad, and what she has to reconcile before traveling abroad again.

How would you describe your transition to college after your gap year?

My transition to college after TBB was one of the best parts of my post-gap year experience. When I initially arrived home I felt lost. Going home made me feel as if I had taken myself and my entire year and thrown it all up in the air. I had spun around, changed, learned about the world, and came into a new sense of myself. But, I landed back down in the same exact place that I started with myself feeling completely different but my surroundings being exactly the same. I craved excitement and stimulation but found a lack of it in my life at home, so going to college provided that necessary opportunity for me to continue my exploration of both myself and my world.

Why did you take a gap year and did it make a difference in college?

I decided to take a gap year after a two-week service trip to Zambia in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I’d never even heard of such an option before that trip, and had always expected myself to transition straight into college from high school graduation. When I took my trip to Zambia (as cliché as it sounds) my eyes were opened. I promised myself upon leaving that I’d be back to Africa, and within a year I was boarding a TBB flight to Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. I thought, back then, that I wanted to do a gap year to learn more about the world and help other people, but now I see just how much more necessary this gap year was than I had ever anticipated. What I really did on TBB was learn about fundamental parts of myself that I had always been silencing, and I learned how to listen to them. The insight about myself that I have from my gap year has helped me in so many different areas of college life. I see myself now as a much more driven and academically motivated student. I know what I want to study, and I have the initiative to create opportunities for myself that I never would have had I not gained the confidence that TBB helped foster.

Were there times you felt conflicted about the work you were doing?

I think that there is an inherent sense of conflict that arises as you journey down a process of becoming more intentional and conscientious in your actions. For me (and I’m sure for many of my peers) there developed a persistent voice in my head constantly questioning the impacts of my actions, and whether I may actually have been doing more harm than good. In India while we were attempting to teach English to native Hindi speaking children, there arose many ethical questions about whether what I was doing was actually beneficial. I developed close relationships with some of my students over the course of my stay, and unfortunately did not possess the necessary Hindi skills to express my gratitude and love for them when I was eventually forced to leave. It left me with such a sense of guilt that I had acted as an imposter in their lives, inserted myself into their communities and become emotionally attached to them, only to leave them with no adequate explanation as for why. Coming to terms with this was a long process of accepting that I was there to learn not to change their situation, and reveling in the gratitude I felt for having the chance to know my students.

You had a lot of opportunities to take trips independently. Did you find them valuable?

I found Independent Student Travel to be so liberating. It was a great opportunity to be responsible for every facet of travel, lodging, and activities, and being trusted with that level of responsibility gave me such a sense of empowerment. One of my favorite IST experiences was in South Africa when a group of six of my friends and I visited Cape Town. We stayed at a backpackers called the Penthouse on Long Street, and it was absolutely incredible. Having the experience of staying in an international hostel with people from all over the globe who were doing similar things as me was such a unique experience. My friends and I became close with a group of Australian travelers who gave us helpful tips on what to check out in Cape Town and we swapped stories about our international experiences. I loved the experience of interacting with other young people of so many different nationalities all in one same place. There is something to be said for making connections with people in countries that neither of you call home.

Have you traveled abroad since your gap year?

I have not had the opportunity to travel abroad since my trip. However, I’m not sure I’m prepared to yet. Coming home from such an amazing trip where we debunked so many of our own personal assumptions left me questioning what it truly meant to be a citizen of the United States. I have felt increasingly critical of my own native country as I’ve realized their not-so-stellar international reputation. I recognize that this skepticism of the US (even though it can sometimes be useful) was not the intention of TBB nor something I should have taken away from the program, and I hope that in the pursuit of answering the question of what it means for me to be a citizen of the United States that I can then redevelop my identity as an American to benefit my international impact. Before I am ready to do any further international exploration I would like to first do some travel within my own country’s borders and reimagine a new relationship with the U.S. So, no, I have not traveled abroad since my gap year, but hopefully you’ll catch me on the West Coast soon enough. I’ve never been, and I’m dying to see what it’s about!

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