Hanna Karnei is a Global Citizen Year Fellow on a bridge year in Ecuador. Here, she shares the story of what led her to take a bridge year.
Last fall college loomed large in my life.
I built my routine around a list of things I needed to do in order to get into colleges. My average day would include such tasks as writing an essay “In 250 words or less, how do you imagine yourself living and learning at Bard/ Skidmore/ Wheaton?”, talking to a college counselor, learning SAT vocabulary, changing my mind about my future major for the tenth time, and going on campus tours online. These were my top priorities that came before everything else at that time. I was also thinking of joining some clubs for the sake of mentioning them in my CV. Rather than speaking my own truth, I would google college essay prompts to make sure that my answer met the expectations of a college I was applying to. I would intentionally adjust what I said during interviews to sound nicer, and carefully craft a pretentious list of activities for my Common App. This, together with the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum I was doing, made things a little bit too intense.
Somewhere in between those activities I paused for a moment and asked myself whether it was worth attending college without a clear understanding of why I was doing this. I applied to colleges because this was what everyone else around me was doing, but deep down I was hesitant about committing myself to yet another 4 years of structured learning right after the 13 years of schooling I had just completed. Not only did I wish to take a step back from academics, I also wanted to allow myself sufficient room for thinking about what matters to me. I knew that taking a bridge year would help me with the latter, as I believe that practice should come along with theory, or even before it. My gut feeling was telling me that only by trying things out and making mistakes would I find out what I want to do in the future. As Alain de Botton puts it in his book The Art of Travel, “Journeys are the midwives of thought. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places.”
I came to realize that there is a myriad of things, apart from college experience, that shape us into who we are. It is the books we read, circumstances we overcome, people we love, moments of hesitation we experience, and roads we travel. However enriching a freshman experience I might have had this year, I didn’t feel like it was time to settle down on a college campus without first having the opportunity to learn from my own experience.
In hindsight, the most joyous moments of my life are linked to the people I met and places I visited. Like that time when I met a French girl on a farm in Germany who later on became a dear friend of mine, had a conversation with a traveller in a pub, or went on a hike up in the mountains in Armenia. In these terms, a bridge year, in many ways, is about what I appreciate most -- places and people.
Now, as I stare ahead at the next seven months which will spend in Ecuador with Global Citizen Year, I wonder what will come as a result of embracing discomfort, learning to survive off of much less and giving up my secure habits. I hope to approach this experience with humility, and gain insights I would not have gained had I gone straight to college.