Shared by Global Citizen Year Fellow, Alana Poole
Fall semester. Senior year. The season of college applications, all-nighters, and cramming before the SAT. The competition was unbearable and the pressure from my family was crushing. I was supposed to go to college to major in international studies and minor in psychology.
And I almost went through with it.
But after clicking the ‘submit’ button for those college apps, I heard about something called Global Citizen Year - a bridge year program that selects graduating high school seniors and supports them through a year of immersion in Ecuador, Brazil, India or Senegal before college.
To me, it sounded way good to be true. A whole eight months to live in a new country? Right out of high school? Time to reflect on myself and figure out what I want to do in life? To my mom, it sounded wild and absurd but she encouraged me to apply and see if I could even get accepted.
Flash forward and now I’ve been living in Pune, India for seven months.
People will ask me, “Wow, how is it in India!? I bet it’s super crazy. You’re, like, riding elephants and eating a lot of curry, right?” Let me tell you the straightforward answer to that: No. Before I came here, I thought similar things too — that my life would be crazy and chaotic and that I would come home with a billion unreal stories. But that isn’t how it is. At all.
I am not saying that India has been a let-down in anyway whatsoever. It’s exceeded all expectations and has proven itself to be an incredible country. I am, however, saying that life here is much different from the story we have been fed about it.
There aren’t elephants just roaming the streets, the food isn’t oh-my-god-spicy, not everyone is poor, and not everyone is a math god. Sure, there are some truths to those stories we’ve been sold, but there’s a saying here. “Everything that you hear about India is true…but the opposite is also equally as true.”
I won’t lie to you, I have seen beggars and slum children. I even work with some. But I have also seen extraordinarily wealthy people living luxurious lives and I have seen people in the middle class. There are serene, rural villages and huge, lively cities. I have seen amazing schools with incredibly advanced education and I’ve also seen poorly run schools where teachers seldom come or corporally punish the kids when they do. It is all there. India is not one or the other, and there is a lot more grey area than the extremes we have been fed.
This learning came when I realized that this bridge year isn’t a trip to India; it is living in India. I’m not out here doing wild things every second of the day; I’m living life here. I’m apprenticing everyday in a government school, teaching math, English and music to eighth graders which, let me tell you, is not very easy work (insert apology to my teachers from eighth grade).
I cook with my host mom and make chai a few times a day. I’m slowly learning Hindi (dheerese Hindi sikhrahi hun) and practicing it with rickshaw drivers and little kids in my school building, of course, while making a billion mistakes.
It probably isn’t the adventure people had in mind when they heard I was staying a year in India, but it has been a huge adventure for me. These daily adventures are more important to me than crazy, unbelievable stories I am coming home with.
There are plenty of those too, but when I think back to the time I lived in India, I will think about the countless hours I spent trying to teach decimals to my students and about all the times I made chapati (flat bread) with my host mom and about all the haggling with market vendors to get Indian prices, not foreigner prices (a time where Hindi comes very useful, even if it is broken).
These memories are the ones that are going to make me desperately miss this place. The past few months have been the most challenging of my life and I’ve loved every moment of it.
Global Citizen Year is the launching pad for bold high school grads who are hungry to make a real impact in the world, and to make college count. Some call it a “gap” year; but I think it’s anything but a gap — it’s a bridge to greatness.