Alumni Spotlight: Grace Nelson

Throughout high school, Grace Nelson dreamed of exploring the world and traveling abroad on a gap year. She knew early on that a diversion from the regular college track would be best for her. After spending the first part of her gap year in Southeast Asia she looks forward to doing much more traveling.

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose Carpe Diem Education's Southeast Asia program because I wanted to venture beyond the Western world and learn how to travel with guidance from a knowledgeable organization. After speaking with a Carpe Diem Alumni, I felt reassured that the program with all of its specific intentions and attention to detail would serve as the best introduction to my gap year.

Carpe Diem pays special attention to creating the most moving experience for its students. The itinerary for my trip intrigued me because of the wide variety of activities planned for the semester.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Carpe Diem's international connections are absolutely amazing. Their long-time contacts facilitate much of the trip, including accommodation and activities. The itinerary is planned out far in advance so planning is thoroughly completed prior to the trip.

Along the way, students are responsible for organizing some activities and finding some of the accommodation. This allows for real travel experience during the trip. We followed the itinerary as planned and had a specific part of the trip for student-directed travel so that we could plan exactly where we would go and what we would do.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Pretty early in the trip, I realized that Carpe Diem keeps a considerate distance from its students. They allow for a good amount of free time in various locations which encourages exploration and learning. I recommend taking full advantage of all of this time.

By getting out and exploring the culture and customs of a community independently one can easily learn interesting and specific details about the area.

Your gap year is entirely controlled by you! Make the most of every moment, live in the present and enjoy yourself! Traveling is the best way to learn about the world and yourself take every opportunity you can to enrich your life and those around you with your experiences.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The days usually start early on a Carpe Diem semester. Movement is always happening and I was often amazed at how much we accomplished each day.

Depending on what part of the trip it is, breakfast is spent together and then the activities of the day are started right away. For example, a day in a city would consist of a group excursion somewhere, like a local temple, market or museum followed by volunteer work or more independent exploring in the afternoon.

The weeks change depending on where you are. For example, one week we spent volunteering in a hill tribe village in Northern Thailand, we spent another week at an organic farm, and another one at a non-profit school in Cambodia.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear going into the trip stemmed from my anxious energy and lack of control over things. I often felt worried that I would be late to a group meeting or we wouldn't get a chance to do something that I really wanted to do. However, after studying Buddhism and making new friends that reassured me in the way things happen I was able to let go of my anxieties. I realized that everything would happen how it should and that control is merely an illusion.

Prior to the trip, I worried about what food I would eat as a vegetarian and how I would deal with common traveler issues like getting sick or being lost, but I soon realized that while travell=ing there is so much to do and see you can't let your worries hold you back.

The comfortable and excited energy that I experienced while traveling uplifted me so much that I found a special sense of peace and wholeness on the trip which I have never found anywhere else in life.

What is a life skill you gained while travelling abroad?

The most fundamental skill I developed, or rather enhanced, while traveling abroad is my organization skills. Packing cubes are a must-have when traveling and there is never a reason to travel with a bag larger than a carry-on. Travelling with less stuff makes everything easier. You won't be concerned with losing as much and packing and transitioning to the next place is a breeze.

Also when planning activities, always take notes of your plans. Record the address of where you are going, their hours, and possibly a phone number. With confidence and organization the world is yours to explore!

My gap semester was the happiest, most challenging, and most rewarding three months of my life. I highly recommend Carpe Diem Education and gap years in general to everyone, not just fresh high school graduates! The best way to learn about the world, yourself and your place in it is by venturing to new places that reflect truths about the world. I really hope to influence others to take a gap year and travel to underrepresented places.