Coming back from the Gap Experience and into my old home life was a bit of a shock. It was strange going from constant travel and meeting people to calm and uneventful days of lounging around in my pajamas. But through these long and quiet days of winter break, I realized how much I’ve learned and changed as a person throughout the course of the Gap Experience. And what’s more, is when asked by my friends and family how the entire semester experience was, I find that I really have no clue how to answer them other than telling them one single word: “amazing.”
Before the Gap Experience, I saw myself in a very different light, or rather not much light at all. I held many negative feelings toward myself; most of those feelings I could never imagine wanting to express to anyone. I didn’t really have any friends, because I was focused inward so much that it was almost like my life was passing me by on the outside. Everything was happening so fast that before I knew it, I had graduated high school and was entering into college with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. The Gap Experience here at St. Norbert was a way to put my life on hold for a while in order to regain some control that I seemed to have lost. Little did I know that the semester ahead of me would do so much more than that.
The first segment of the Gap Experience took place in the Boundary Waters of upper Minnesota. At first glance, the three-week long leadership course with nine other students I barely knew and no outside communication looked pretty intimidating. But once my group and I set out on our adventures and faced the challenges of the lakes and forests, the barrier that separated us as friends fell. I realized that these people I shared canoes and backpacks with were accepting and real. I realized that I didn’t have to keep all my feelings within myself. I realized that I was a strong person. And finally, I realized that I was right where I was supposed to be in my life.
While the Boundary Waters had been the start of moving my focus from myself to the outside world, the following course that took us to Chicago, Albuquerque, and El Paso drove that focus even farther outward. Addressing issues like homelessness, incarceration, immigration, and more, sparked a passion for change within me. This passion was only fueled by our visit to the shrine for the Latinos who were victims in the El Paso Walmart shooting. Walking along the fence lined with mementos, prayers, and sentiments, a mix of emotions so powerful swept over me that I broke down, thinking to myself, “how could there be so much hate for people all because of their race?” It was then that I realized my vocation was to use the privilege that I have and the talents that I possess to bring those voices of the marginalized to light in order for change to be made.
Although the Gap Experience had already made a significant difference in my life and how I was going to plan my future, it wasn’t done with me yet. Our month-long adventure to the mountainous expanses of Guatemala was yet another life-altering experience. Immersing myself into the friendly and colorful culture of the Guatemalan people has given me a unique insight into the true meaning of service. It was through learning the stories of the Guatemalan people and being able to bear witness to the fact that there is action within the overcoming of suffering. This has shifted my perception of the world and what is truly service to people. It is not looking at the world as in need of help or fixing; it is not looking at the world and only seeing deficiencies that need solutions. Service is looking at the world and seeing capability; it is truly seeing people and accompanying them in their lives and their culture.
Looking back on this whole Gap Experience now in January of 2020, I cannot say that I am the same person that I was back in August. I am so much more confident within my own strength, so much more aware of my own privilege, and so much more impassioned to make a change in this world while I can. Because let’s face it, life is always going to seem to move too quickly. The passing of time has always been and will always be out of our grasp. But it is up to us what we are going to do with the time we have. For me, I’ll be living in the moment, ready to take on whatever life throws at me, making a difference with the talents I possess, and appreciating every second of it.