Alumni Spotlight: Sophia Brigante

Having always dreamed of traveling the world, Sophia, as a junior in high school, went to a Gap Year Fair and realized her dream was right in front of her. The next year, she applied to colleges like her classmates, deferred her acceptance to St. Lawrence University, graduated with her class, and decided to take a gap year. As an active member of her school community, playing soccer and lacrosse, representing the student body on the school board, member of various clubs and extracurricular activities, she was very prepared for college, but knew this was her dream and college could wait.

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose to spend my first semester with the ARCC Gap Year Program for many reasons.

From the beginning, ARCC presented an extremely welcoming and engaging opportunity. After talking briefly with other organizations about their programs, where I could go, what a potential itinerary could be, I had no doubt that ARCC was the perfect match for me, they offered everything I was looking for and dreaming of. With a very organized website, stunning reviews, and very friendly staff that responded immediately to my many questions, I knew I could 100% trust this organization.

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

ARCC sent out many personal emails and forms out to not only myself but also my parents. We received phone calls, video chats, and emails very frequently. These emails had lots of information, some focused on just describing the beautiful Masai culture we'd be living in or the population food in each culture. Other emails were about the specifics of the trip or scheduling a time to video chat and touch base.

There was also a very informative and helpful pre-departure webinar answering all the questions imaginable.

I had to do a lot of this on my own, of course with the help of ARCC and my family. My high school, however, was not very familiar with this pathway and left me to work my way through it.

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

My three months in East Africa with ARCC was the most amazing and incredible time of my life. I cannot begin to describe how much pure love and joy I experienced. There are some tough times, not everything is rainbows and butterflies. But those tougher moments make the other ones that much better.

Embrace the uncomfortable, the weird, the different. You will never regret taking a chance like this. I never once felt homesick, but now being back home, I am flooded with that feeling, wishing I was back with my ARCC family.

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

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what an average day/week looks like in an ARCC program.

For my trip, we had about 50 days of camping, where we would wake up around 7:00 to prepare breakfast, get ready, and head off to whatever activity we were doing that day. We traveled around in a huge truck that held all our bags and food, so some days were spent traveling to a new location and singing throwbacks at the top of your lungs.

Without fail, however, every night before dinner, we would do a "chow circle" where we would come together, make announcements, give shoutouts, and "pass the pulse". P the P was a silent hand squeeze to the person next to you until it went all the way around the circle, a reassuring feeling that we are all there for each other.

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

Having struggled with anxiety and depression throughout high school, I was extremely nervous I couldn't do it. I wouldn't make friends, I'd be homesick, I'd be left behind and forgotten by my friends now in college. I got into my own head and started making up scenarios to scare myself. I thought I wasn't brave or strong enough.

What I learned, however, was that stepping out of your comfort zone and facing these fears head-on is sometimes the only way to understand what you're capable of.

Is there any other advice for prospective travelers?

Not only did I make some of the best friends imaginable, but I also met the love of my life.

Going into my gap year, I knew I wanted to focus on myself, learn to love myself before loving anyone else. And I did learn to do that, but I also learned what it feels like to truly be loved. So I guess my advice is to just be open to new relationships with the people on your trip, you may meet the person you didn't know you were even missing from your life.