Crafting my story: tales from my Global Citizen Year
By Andrew Dunn, Class of 2015, Dover Campus
"Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” This quote from Ibn Battuta holds a lot of truth. Looking back over the time I spent in Ecuador on my bridge year, I was too astonished, too caught up still in the moment, to even think of how I would be able to tell of my experiences in a single story. It will be difficult for me to do, but I will do my best.
My journey kicked off in August 2015, a few short months after graduating, when I travelled to San Francisco for pre-departure training with other UWC students and a group of American high school graduates. We spent a week learning about what to expect in our new country, including lessons such as the dangers of a “single story” that our hosts may have about our place of origin. This could be from people hearing on television about the riches of the USA, or the struggles of Africa., and that we should not judge these people on the lack of knowledge they might have, but rather treat them with curiosity and guide them toward a more “real truth.”
In the second week we flew to Quito, Ecuador where we spent three weeks learning about the politics, culture and way of life in the country. And I started my Spanish classes. Talk about struggles. It was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever endured; learning a new language not because you want to, but because you have to in order to communicate, to exist. And just like that, the three weeks had passed, and I was on my way to Azogues, a small city in the southern province of Cañar. It was here that I met the family with whom I would grow immensely, not only in my love for Ecuador (and, unexpectedly, for Spanish!) but also through the personal connections I made whilst there. Tim Cahill once said that “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles,” and this was the absolute truth for me. The number of friends I made, Ecuadorian and non-Ecuadorian, was so amazing, and each of them treated me with so much respect (especially knowing that my Spanish was very mediocre!).
I started out working with the Red Cross, to gain some experience to support my dream to study medicine. However, I later found a new apprenticeship: teaching dance in a local high school. It was absolutely what I needed. Dance has always been one of my greatest passions. It was something I refined at UWCSEA, during UN Nights as well as through the High School Dance shows. To be able to become a choreographer and teach some of what I know and can do was awesome. I lived with an amazing family—I had a mom, and for the first time I had a big brother, and a baby sister. I even found a best friend, something I never thought I would find half way across the world.
Now, to explain about how I came to the decision . In February 2015 I started to panic about college and careers, and not to mention final IB exams. I was stressing out. And then I received an email about Global Citizen Year. I had never considered doing a gap year, but I read through the website, and I listened to interviews with Global Citizen Year Founder Abby Falik, and it immediately caught my full attention. I had found the perfect solution to the stress and struggles I was going through. I knew I was not ready for college, and so I thought a year outside, in the world, would do me wonders.
And honestly, it did exactly that. Because, in the words of Mary Anne Radmacher, “I am not the same, having seen the moon on the other side of the world.” Even college deans are now encouraging students to take gap years, in which they take time to realize what their passions are, and what they are good at; to realise what they want to become when they finally “grow up.” Former Dean of Admissions at Princeton, Fred A. Hargadon reflected on the benefits of a gap year in this way: “I am convinced that one’s college education is greatly enhanced by the maturity, experience, and perspective a student can bring.”
And so I would like to encourage each and every one of you to at least consider a gap year. It was life-changing for me, and it could be for you as well—as long as you work hard at maintaining your goal, which for me was making this a year to learn. What makes it even sweeter is the stories I now hold, having become someone worthy of telling my story.