Coming home from a Gap Year

Hello there, readers!  This past May I came home from a gap year program through Impact 360 Institute in Pine Mountain, Georgia.  And just like any transition, there are stages and phases (what a mouthful) of emotions and thought processes that either help you transition well or make coming back home (or wherever your new normal is) quite a challenge.

For me, even though it has just been a full month of being back home, I have seemed to have gone through a number of these stages/phases of emotion.

And although everyone deals with change differently depending on the circumstances and your own way of dealing with change, I think that everyone coming home from a Gap Year can relate to experiencing these at some point during the transition.

No one really understands what the heck you did.

So did you take a year off to figure things out? Did you work for a year to help pay for school? Did you travel the world? No one really knows what you did because there are so many different things people do when they say they are taking a Gap Year!

You probably experienced this a lot before you started your gap year too, but sadly may have come home to realize that a lot of people are still in the dark about what you actually did.

For me personally, coming back from this experience felt very similar to when I came back from my trip to Malawi two summers ago.  There were some big differences between experiences, like that one was 2 months and the other was 9, but the questions were mostly the same.  My reaction to those questions was mostly a mix of excitement to tell them/stress to tell them a good recap in 5 min or less/dread because I know I won’t capture what I want to about the program with a few words.

 

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You realize how you took some of it for granted.

Going in to the program and especially near the end, I knew I was taking at least some of the greatness for granted.  I knew that when the time to go home came, I would wish I cherished it more while I could.

Because there are so many aspects of a Gap Year, it can be hard to take it all in all the time. And hey, we are human.  Have we ever lived an experience exactly the way we want to?  Give yourself a break.  You made the most of your time there and the things you learned there won’t go away easily.

Good ways of remembering the things you learned and the memories you don’t want to forget can be making a chart of each month and listing the different things you want to remember, journaling, and calling up a friend from the experience to catch up and reminisce.

You will probably get discouraged at some point.

You probably changed and grew a lot as a person during your Gap Year experience, especially if you were away from home.

When you come back home, your family and friends circles still know you as who you were when you left for your Gap Year.

This makes sense, but when you aren’t surrounded by the community you’re used to and start falling into habits that you haven’t had since almost a year ago (and maybe start failing at most or all of the goals you set for yourself coming home), you start thinking you still are that same person from a year ago.

It’s hard staying faithful to the lessons you’ve learned about yourself and the world when the people that helped stretch and ultimately grow your mind aren’t physically there anymore.  Don’t stay discouraged!  Call up a friend from the past year (peer or staff member), be real with them, and let them encourage you in all the ways you have truly grown.

You have newfound dreams and passions.

Or have even been reminded of a passion you have that you need to rethink and maybe go after at some point.

No matter what your Gap Year entailed, it was probably a lot different from what you have normally done during the school year.  And different usually produces uncomfortable, getting yourself out-of -your-comfort-zone moments.  That’s great though, because it leads to growth:)

 

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Whatever your next step holds, you know that the lessons you learned at your Gap Year will stick with you for life.

IMPACT 360 Graduation

IMPACT 360 Graduation

 

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Thoughts on my latest Adventure: Brazil

Hello world!  Me and my fellow classmates touched down on American soil last week, and I thought I should at least make an attempt at telling the internet about what I learned and experienced in São Paulo, Brazil.  If anything comes of this, it will be helpful for me to process my thoughts from the trip-but I do hope this helps you imagine this month for yourself as you travel in my shoes.

Going into the trip, I tried not to have expectations. After all, a common quote I like to reference from William Shakespeare says

“Expectation is the root of all heartache”

, and I think it has finally started to rub off on me.  However, I have found that expectations are inevitable, and as the trip trudged on I seemed to unearth buried expectations and “wish dreams” of how I thought the trip would go, leaving me somewhat disappointed at times. Luckily I didn’t take those disappointments too seriously-there was so much growth and learning happening around me and directly to me!  So much so that the disappointments were almost immediately brushed aside; not completely forgotten but positively rejected as something that would only taint my perspective (something I knew I couldn’t let happen if I was to have an open heart and mind about the people and culture surrounding me).

Anyways, so I came in with expectations (realized or not).  I was hoping I had better idea of how I was going to lay out the things I learned but I have no idea where to start.  The beginning sounds like a good place to start I guess:

The first week we were in São Paulo (the 3rd largest city in the world), the squad worked with Memorial Baptist.  The translators were very warm and friendly, and they really made us feel more at home and became good friends with all of us very fast!  While we were there we split into two groups and each went to a different community in the city. The group I was in went to Dirce.  Both groups did similar things though, i.e. leading children’s and youth services.

This week with Memorial was a whirlwind because there was so much “new” around us-everything from artsy graffiti to learning to put toilet paper in the trash can (NOT the laundry hamper…).  It was a good new.  Exciting and exhilarating.  Our eyes could scarcely take everything in-it was like the first time you watch a good movie; even though your eyes are processing as much as they can, the next time you see it, you notice how much you missed the first time.  That’s how that week felt.  Hopefully I have the opportunity to go back sometime later and have that experience of sweeping up all the details I missed the first time:)

The second and third week immersed in São Paulo we were at Palavra da Vida (Word of Life) which was a place in the state of São Paulo (but in a different city) that has camp in the summer and winter.  It personally reminded me of YL summer camp the one year I went (it was awesome by the way) and that might have had something to do with the fact that it was started 50 years ago by two Americans.  Anyways, we were at the camp mainly to be support staff.  We happened to be there for the last two weeks of camp, so the staff were pretty exhausted physically and emotionally by this point and I think we did a good job of lightening their load a little.

Each of us Americans were assigned different jobs at the beginning of the week.  I was in apoio the first week which was basically like decorations and we painted things for themed dinners, and the second week I was working in the kitchen which was actually quite fun and involved singing T Swizzle and having bubble wars:)

The first week was quite different from the second week in many ways.  There were physical differences (I had a different job, different campers in my room, different weather) and emotional differences (different campers, processing things back home, building relationships, having my whole being exhausted-really though); and some of them overlap and go hand-in-hand.

I pride myself on being able to adapt and adjust to new environments almost automatically, and over a number of experiences I have realized that there is good and not so much good that results from that.  I don’t mean to go sidetracking off in a whole new direction, but my point is that the first week at camp, I seemed to have no problems at all jumping right into this new place filled with new people and routines that would soon become familiar and comfortable.

The girls in my room were aged from 14-16 and I discovered that I really enjoy that age because I felt like I could connect with them the most.  Something that completely shocked me was how much of an influence I automatically had on the campers just because I was a “gringa” or foreigner.  That was something I had only experienced once before, in Malawi; but even then the kids were usually too shy to interact with us much at first.  The girls in my room immediately began asking me so many questions-many of them could speak english but the ones that couldn’t had their questions translated for me to answer.  I started to realize how much more powerful my words and actions would have on them, I was being more closely watched than I was used to, and honestly it gave me confidence to start conversations with them.  It made me want to be more intentional (there’s that Impact word haha) with getting to know and understand them.

I could write a lot more about the campers and what we did, but a lot of what you probably want to know is on the Impact 360 Brazil blog here.  Just look for the São Paulo Squad for specific updates from our team!

This is getting long so I’ll talk more about what I learned while I was there.  A theme that started appearing I don’t know when, became more obvious by the end of the trip: relationships.  Relationships are huge for life in general, but I have always struggled with maintaining and finding good ones.  And not just one type either, but from all levels starting with girl-to-girl friendships all the way to dating relationships.  It wasn’t necessarily something I expected to learn on this trip, but then again, what do my expectations matter anyways?  Seems God always wants so surprise me with lessons much bigger and better than I ever imagined:)

I can’t pinpoint many distinct moment where I noticed a shift in my understanding, but it was mostly a gradual realization at where I have thought wrong and learning new things about what they should be.  I became closer with just about everyone on the SP squad, and most of the team (8/13) were guys.  This is probably an eye roll moment because what the heck, relationships with the opposite sex should not be something scary.  But for me it kinda was!  I had just never before had a close relationship with a guy outside of a dating relationship and it had always just felt slightly awkward to me for some reason.  The short of it is that I made significant progress and you will be happy/relieved to know that I don’t find it scary to be friends with boys anymore.  I know it sounds silly but it was a real challenge for me!

There were various other emotional things I processed the second week of camp but it’s a long story and it’s probably better to ask me about it than for me to try to find the right way to type it out in a way that makes sense haha.  So I’ll leave it at that:)

Something I found as an incredible relief to my very tired soul especially the second week of camp was worshipping in English.  It was exciting and even somewhat edifying to worship (or try haha) in Portuguese with the rest of the Brazilians during their times of worship, but I quickly realized it wasn’t the same as singing in your own native language. It made the few times we had our own times of worship so much sweeter and powerful because I was filled with appreciation and gratitude at being able to sing at all with a group of people I have grown to love so dearly and who love and search after God with their lives.  It is a beautiful thing, being able to worship with your voice and some instruments; and I reached a new and much deeper depth of appreciation at that ability He has given us to lift our hearts up to Him, no matter what we are going through-there is always a reason to sing.

I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who prayed or commented on the Impact blog, or supported us in any other way while we were preparing for and while we were actually experiencing the trip!!  As a team, we saw the power of prayer and knew that God had gone before us and prepared people’s hearts (ours too of course!) for our arrival.  So thank you so so much for all your encouragement and prayer-know that it had power:)

Until the next adventure!

 

Joys of the Day

Today was one of those days where, at the end of the day, I find myself constantly smiling (even laughing for no apparent reason) at the unexpected joy of the day and realize how blessed I am by God to be freely who I am with people I am beginning to love so dearly.

Contrary to popular belief, I have a crazy side to me which usually leaves me laughing uncontrollably in the most embarrassing ways (which usually come back to haunt me in the form of cringe-worthy videos).  I am not as shy or reserved as people that don’t know me may think.  Anyways, when that crazy side to me makes an appearance, it is always because I feel comfortable to be completely myself, flaws and all, with someone or a small group of people.  And as we can all recall, it’s a great feeling to be known and accepted and even celebrated; especially since those moments are so rarely throughout one’s day or to the grand extent like today.

I don’t know how to jump into this or how to tell you what the purpose of recording this is because I don’t really know myself other than that maybe you will smile at the funniness of life and the little things that make life a little bit sweeter.

The first silly happening of the day involves a curling iron. This will be part 1 of 2.  It’s not what you think either.  Since one of our outlets by the sink that we use to get ready every morning wasn’t working, my roommate Katie plugged her curling iron into one of the outlets on the floor and had it resting on the sink which led to the cord hanging a few inches above the entrance to our bathroom…so basically like a trip wire.  We all had no problem stepping over it all morning until I came flying out of the bathroom to tell Katie something I randomly remembered and tripped on the cord, causing the cord to rip. out. of. the. iron. So I broke KP’s curling iron.  In attempts to piece it back together and pretend I hadn’t just torn the whole thing apart, I was fiddling with the broken end trying to push it back into place while I forgot it was still plugged into the wall.  There was a spark so I decided to unplug it before I electrocuted myself or burned the building down. Once I got the cord back in a place where I thought it might work, I tried plugging it in the wall.  A blue light and another shock appears and I finally decide to leave it alone and admit that I broke my roommates curling iron.

After this incident, I went to the little food store in downtown Pine Mountain to buy some comics (which is the thing I remembered to tell Katie when I flew out of the bathroom and broke her iron) for some people I know that really like them.  I guess the only reason I’m adding this is because I’m not one to buy comics and yet there I was, searching through the whole collection, getting really engrossed in the different types of super heroes and also feeling a little naive at not finding any names I recognized.  I guess I have a lot to learn when it comes to super heroes.

When I got back to the dorm, I realized my ihome wasn’t working and I couldn’t turn on any of the lights in the main space of our room.  None of the outlets were working except in the kitchen and the bathroom light.  Of course my first thought was to blame the oldness of the building and complain about how everything in our room is always breaking or needing fixing.  Little did I know that I was probably the culprit of the situation. And I think it involved a curling iron… So we got the outlets fixed. But Jacob, one of the staff that also works as a handyman, thought it was weird that so many outlets weren’t working all of a sudden and thought it probably was caused by something. A broken curling iron perhaps? I guess we’ll never know.

Another joy of today was the joy of “working out” a.k.a. interpretive dancing + doing somewhat athletic moves of your choice (like trying to do burpees but looking like a wet noodle, “squats”, etc.) to some pump up music on my phone with KP.  My other roommate Cal caught some of this masterpiece on video in the process.  Needless to say, it left me tired and breathless (mainly from laughter) and with hurting abs (caused solely by laughter) that made me appreciate Katie’s (KP) craziness and that I got to be a little crazy with her.

Last but certainly not least involves a cat.  I really like cats.  Not in a “crazy cat lady” way but just as a fond appreciation for their existence.  For our “gathering” tonight, we went to a local catholic church and got to learn more about their traditions and history and some of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism.  I really enjoyed it.  But let’s get to the cat.  After Father Madden had talked to us and we were in the parking lot loading into the vans to leave, someone spotted a cat in the darkness.  There was a hold up so we were standing out there a few minutes and I didn’t think much of the cat.  But then I could see it was young and so cute (I mean it looked like it had the potential for cuteness in the dark) and it was meowing.  It kept coming up to us a little and then running back, but eventually it trusted us enough to rub up against me (I’m hoping it didn’t have any weird bugs or anything) and let me scratch it’s ears.  Such a small moment but it made me happy.

I know all of this probably wasn’t as funny to you as it was to me but today was just a very good day and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on it and the importance of noticing those little moments or things in life that bring you joy.  It just so happened that a bunch of different events and people made my day so wonderful and not even for going out of their way to do something for me was involved.  It was such a great day because my roommates and I can be crazy with each other at times and feel completely comfortable about that.  We have officially experienced each other’s weirdness and we still accept each other for who we are and I can’t think of much else that can be better than that:)  It’s the level of trust I have in them that makes it possible for me to be myself and have moments like these.

Sometimes a cup of your favorite hot drink (mine is Chai latte) or a random dance party with your roomies is all you need to sprinkle a little joy into your day.  And I think that today I got a whole mound of sprinkles added to my day which I couldn’t be more grateful to have tasted.

Beginnings and Wishes

     A drop in the ocean.  Yes, I originally got it from the song from Ron Pope but I really liked the concept.  It’s a way I like to think about to remind myself of how small I really am in an “ocean” of other people when I realize I am building myself up to be better than others (which just isn’t true).  I also love the ocean, so there’s that.  But another aspect of this metaphor that I found so interesting is how much a drop of water can change.  I don’t think Ron was really trying to take it this far but as I thought of all the ways water can change, (solid, liquid, gas) I also thought of how each of us changes.  Yes there are infinite ways a person can change and what a person can change into, but the concept is sorta the same.  Some people are stuck, or frozen (ice, get it?), in their ways, or unchanging.  Others are fluid (water), going with the flow of life, following every turn and wave life takes them on.  Yet others still are more airy (gas), striving towards new heights and soaring towards uncharted skies, only to rain down again, morphing into some other form of themselves.

    I felt like I just had to take a moment to explain the reason for my blog title, and the rest of what I have to say doesn’t have anything to do with it.  It’s pretty scattered but I’m new at this so I’m hoping to get better!

Something I was just thinking about was how I am so excited to be surrounded by a small group of people that I will be able to get to know these next few months.  I get to know each person; their strengths and weaknesses, their moments to celebrate and to be sad, their favorite things, their greatest fears, what makes them laugh, and knowing how to care for them when they are in need.

    It’s so exciting knowing that I will understand the people around me soon, but a little voice inside my head keeps telling me that this isn’t a four year university, that we will be leaving each other in the Spring and that the separation will be terrible.
    I think this realization that keeps being forced into my mind isn’t all bad.  It is bad in the sense that by nature it makes me fearful of getting to know anyone too well so I don’t miss them so much, but I have grown to love these people too much already, so I’m a goner.
    The “good” part of being forced to think of this sad realization is that we say goodbye to a lot of people throughout our lives.  Sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly and then all at once.  The Winnie the Pooh quote keeps coming to mind.
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
It’s the bittersweet truth.  I think it’s good to be reminded of reality, and not only that, but to accept the time we have with people and to strive towards using that time to the best use we can.  I know it’s much easier said than done.  I am trying to have a change of mind and eventually heart in thinking of this realization as a reminder to love the people around me with intention and regularity.  That will be one of my challenges this year, but I’m excited to learn from everyone and see all the growth that will be happening which I know will include some vulnerability and trust.
    We each bring such diversity to the table; in our thoughts, our experiences, our views, etc.  Sometimes this obvious fact brings friction rather than the realization of new ideas, and I am just praying that we have more times of wonder at our classmates thoughts than times of close-minded disagreement.
Even still, I’m sure I will respond another way that Pooh did as well once we finally reach the end of this program…
Goodbye?  Oh no…please.  Can’t we go back to page one and do it all over again?