Yesterday, Jordan talked about his decision to take a gap year with Global Citizen Year. Today, we're talking to him about how his world view completely shifted after his time in Senegal.
What did your gap year entail?
Global Citizen Year is focused on increasing, unsurprisingly, global citizenry. It is dedicated to making a gap year the norm, not the exception, by providing U.S. American high school seniors (as well as a few international applicants) the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in a foreign culture for 8 full months, giving them the insight and exposure to a new perspective that they would not be able to gain otherwise.
It forces recent high school graduates to push their comfort zones and get to know a completely new part of the world extremely in-depth, making them examine their assumptions about how the world works and their place in it.
There is a week and a half Pre-Departure Training that happens before you leave the USA, then a 1-month orientation in the capital city of your placement country where you first get exposed to the language and culture of the host country.
After that, the meat of the experience is the 7 months you are placed in your local community, which range from urban to extremely rural locations, where you live with a homestay family and have an apprenticeship which is similar to a "day job."
The difference in this aspect is that Global Citizen Year does not expect its participants to bring some quantifiable skill to their host community - it expects you to sit back and learn. Learn, for 7 months.
For a 17 or 18-year old, this test of patience is not always so easy, but it is absolutely critical. You learn what it really means to be a local in your community because you work with them, eat with them, and live with them.
Finally, there is a concluding aspect back in the capital city of the country, as well as Re-Entry training that happens back in the United States, allowing program participants to decompress and start to unravel exactly what it was they just went through.
What was the biggest surprise for you?
The biggest surprise for me was when I got back to the United States and had what's called "reverse culture shock."
This is a phenomenon that happens when you get back to your home country and home culture and suddenly, it doesn't feel as if it is truly and completely "home" anymore.
You start to question aspects of your own culture that you had never thought about before, like where there is such an overabundance of choices in the supermarket for every type of product imaginable. I had to figure out how to navigate in my own culture once again because I realized I did not completely identify as 100% American anymore. I wasn't 100% Senegalese either, but somewhere in the middle.
What advice do you have for people considering taking a gap year?
My best advice for someone considering a gap year is not the clichéd, "Do it. You'll always regret it if you don't." I don't think that's true. If you never take a gap year, you'll never have any idea of what you missed.
A gap year, above the glamorous (and mostly not so glamorous) travel, is the opportunity to seriously challenge your assumptions about the world. A gap year, if done right, is a chance to see the world from a completely different perspective, one that will destroy everything you thought you knew about the world, and then force you to try and build it back it up.
I know plenty of people who don't want to do that and I have come to learn that traveling and taking a gap year is truly not for everyone.
But if you do want to have a more nuanced, insightful, and global paradigm on the world, then my advice is: know that you can't really achieve perspective without taking a gap year.