Why did you decide to take a gap year abroad with Thinking Beyond Borders?
Emily: I’ve had a passion to travel and experience culture since I was young, taking a gap year to gain experience and perspective before college was always kind of a given in my mind.
I looked at a number of gap year programs before I found Thinking Beyond Borders, but when I found TBB I knew it was the right fit. TBB is unique in the combination of travel and in country experience along with the academic aspects of the program.
I loved that I wasn’t just going to tour a country with TBB, I was going to live with a host family, work with a partner organization in country and explore these new experiences through discussions in seminars.
What was the best moment of the trip?
Emily: I don’t know that there was a single best moment of the trip, each day really was an adventure with something amazing and new making it special.
I crashed an Indian wedding with my roommates, Savannah and Jamie, our last night in Jaipur. I rode a camel, pet a cheetah and an elephant named Mary wrapped her trunk around me. My group let go of a floating lantern in Thailand on New Year’s Eve and watched it disappear into the night sky.
I spent last November 16th visiting the Taj Mahal. I hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
I slipped on a hill and rolled into a swamp in the rain forest in Ecuador, on my birthday. Landing in the swamp wasn’t a great in the moment, but it was another instance where something unpredicted and unique happened.
I think the best moment of the trip was realizing that my group had become my family, that I have friendships that will last a lifetime and that I am a member of a tight knit community who seeks to create positive social change.
What was the most interesting cultural difference you encountered?
Emily: To be honest, it wasn’t cultural differences but the similarities that stuck with me. Something that really impacted me from each country was the amount of time each family spent together, either sharing a meal, taking walks or cooking.
My host families in each country made the time to be with one another. It reminded me of my family when I was younger, before I got more involved in school and schedules got busier with friends and sports.
Living in a foreign country and being welcomed into those homes reminded me the value of family. Before this year of travel, I expected each culture I lived in to be so different than my own but the amazing thing was that even when the language or cuisine was different, the sense of family and love was familiar.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Emily: I started out this trip assuming that there were simple answers on how to change the world and people just needed to care more. Over the course of this journey I realized that the world is really complicated and there aren’t easy solutions to the global issues that communities face.
This doesn’t mean I don’t involve myself, it means that I involve myself in really conscious and intentional ways. My thinking has shifted from ‘how do we fix other people’ to ‘what is my part to be fixed’.
I have a new awareness of my role in the world: I see that my assumptions impact the word, my beliefs impact the world, and my choices impact the world.
To be an agent of change, I need to make changes in my life first; I need to be mindful about the type of impact I am making. Thinking Beyond Borders provided the environment for me to grow as a learner, traveler, friend and agent of change.
Every belief I held about myself and the world was challenged and reaffirmed. TBB taught me how to reflect and question the critical issues facing our world. My perspective of the world and my role has changed.