Risk. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a risk is “someone or something that creates or suggest a hazard.” But as I have come to learn over this past year, everything in life has a different meaning to each person. To me, a risk is not suggesting something hazardous, but an adventure that challenges me to remove myself from my comfort zone. That is why I decided to take a risk, leave everything behind me, and embark on the biggest adventure of my life. A gap year.
A gap year is a term not often thought about by high school seniors that are about to enter college. For me, a gap year was the only term in my vocabulary. Although I could have easily gone to Franklin and Marshall College last year after being accepted Early Decision, I needed a change in my life. What could have been a bigger change than traveling the world and learning about different careers and cultures? So that is exactly what I did.My year started off in New Zealand where I spent one month interning at Zealandia: The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, monitoring native bird species. My second month living in New Zealand with Live New Zealand Internships, I was working at a public school in Wellington with the 6 year old students. I made my way over to Australia in November to volunteer with Conservation Volunteers Australia for three weeks before returning home to New Jersey for two weeks. In December, I flew down to Jaco, Costa Rica where I studied Spanish and Photography for three weeks at the School of the World. After another quick trip back home to visit, I went to Salvador, Brazil with Cross-Cultural Solutions for two months. I was living with other volunteers and working in an orphanage with children from one month old to 19. Following my amazing two months in Brazil, I met my parents in Costa Rica to show them around for a week. We traveled together back to the United States and together prepared for the last stretch of my year. I spent March, April and May teaching at Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Maryland.
Since I have been back home, people are always asking me, “Do you regret taking a year off before college?” I try not to look at them like they are crazy and reply, “Taking this gap year was the best decision I have made in my life.”
What does this have to do with anything? Everything. I spent three weeks in Jaco, Costa Rica. I felt as if I was there for two days. A lot happened and changed over those few weeks, literally and philosophically, but it went quicker than I ever expected.
I have not become a psychic, but I know what you are wondering…What changed? What did you learn?
After letting my experience settle for a whole day, I have recognized a few things in myself. I went from loving to be by myself before I traveled to New Zealand, to loving to constantly be with others, to having to learn to be alone when I returned home after three months of travel Down Under, to finding a balance of alone and friend time.
Lesson one: Balance.
The second, and so far final thoughts that have been racing around in my mind is the whole idea of pura vida. I know I have already written about its significance and meaning, but it has really become something vital to my philosophies on life. If you live your life doing what makes you happy, and are not too concerned with minute issues, you will live a uniquely happy life. I want to do what I love in my life, otherwise all I will think about are my regrets. Have no regrets. I do not want to walk around being paranoid all the time, like most people from the United States are, so I will no longer have this constant paranoia that everyone is out to get me. I will be aware of my surroundings and wise about my actions, but not paranoid.
Lesson two: Pura Vida.
Now for the less serious business…
Costa Rica was AWESOME!!! I would recommend the School of the World to just about anyone…well anyone that is interested in learning Spanish, Surfing, Photography, or Yoga. I met a lot of amazing and unique people there from diverse backgrounds. The locals in Jaco were also extremely friendly and fun to hang out with. I was warned that Jaco is not the best place in Costa Rica to visit, but I was pleasantly surprised. I felt very safe in the city. It’s one of those places that people will talk and whistle, but nobody will touch you. I really hope to go back to Escuela Del Mundo again very soon! It was an awesome place to live and learn.