Shawn Childs, a 2010 Global Gap Year and Shepaug Valley High School alumna, is a University of Vermont alumna where she studied Environmental Studies and community-based International Development. In this interview, she discusses how her gap year prepared her for the demands of college life and is currently shaping her professional choices.
What was it like volunteering in communities facing global issues?
The service projects that I was a part of while with TBB sparked a passion that has led me to pursue an undergraduate education in Environmental Studies and community-based International Development. I learned that working with the community is the most important part of any project, and one that is often times overlooked. There’s also a certain level of frustration that accompanies volunteering in communities facing global issues, which I may have expected before entering TBB but did not fully understand. There are cultural misunderstandings, financial limitations and a million tiny obstacles to overcome in any development job. The most difficult part to swallow was simply not knowing how much is actually being accomplished. This overwhelming feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ can weigh on you at times — it takes commitment and a belief in your project, organization and ultimately yourself to continue.
Why did you decide to take a gap year?
It wasn’t until I found myself (somewhat accidentally) at a presentation about TBB that I gave serious thought to the benefits of a gap year. The first thing that attracted me, of course, was the traveling. But, the more I researched TBB and the many challenges and opportunities they offered, the more invested I became. I saw TBB as an amazing opportunity to see the world in a unique way, and to be part of communities around the world as opposed to simply visiting them. At the time, I had no concept of the impact the program would have on my own personal growth and development. I thought that I would be helping others but in reality, I received just as much if not more than I gave while experiencing the world with TBB.
Were you passionate about your course of study in college, and what do you do now?
After TBB, I attended the University of Vermont and studied Environmental Studies with a focus on Ecology and Conservation as well as International Development. I absolutely loved what I studied in school and was very taken with my community based International Development minor. Through researching development work and reflecting on my own experiences (especially with TBB), I’ve decided that I want to work in the healthcare field. I’m currently in the early stages of preparation to become a Physician Assistant with the hopes of working in developing communities, domestic and abroad, once I have completed my education in this field. Currently, I am training to become a phlebotomist and an EMT to gain some clinical expertise, while I wait to hear from the post-baccalaureate programs I plan to attend in the fall.
How did TBB-styled learning prepare you for college?
I felt much more prepared and invested in my college courses than many of my peers. TBB taught me to take an active role in my education and to be an advocate for myself. I was able to relate to the information on a much more practical, realistic level. I sought out classes that had a reputation for being more focused on student-involvement and steered away from larger, lecture style-courses. This is a bit of advice that I would pass on to anyone entering college as it’s by far the best way to feel comfortable with and fully understand the relevance of the information being taught, as well as becoming more confident in yourself.
Do you still keep in touch with your fellow gap year students?
Honestly, not as much as I would like to. The year after we got back we made an effort to see each other and since then I’ve been lucky enough to run into a few of my TBB friends every now and then. We’re fortunate we can keep up with one another through Snapchat and Instagram, etc. From what I can tell, and what I’ve heard, most of the students from my program are doing quite well. We still have our original Facebook group that someone will occasionally write in, and on the special occasions where I do speak with someone, I find myself marveling at how easy and natural the conversation is. We spent everyday for eight months together in every sort of situation possible, no matter how much we grow apart and seek out our own paths in life, nothing can change the experiences we shared together.