How can I possibly describe in words the past three months? Transformative. Intense. Eye-opening, perspective-growing, life-changing, the best three months of my life? I guess that’s a start. The three-month program is hard to reflect on because there are so many layers to an experience like that and there are so many ways, both subtle and profound, in which I have changed and grown.
For starters, I met nine interesting, intelligent, and hilarious people. I have learned so much from them and I am so grateful to have met and befriended them. We all came from diverse and separate walks of life but will forever be connected by this crazy, life-changing, three-month adventure. Back in September, during orientation, I remember reflecting on how long it had been since I had met nine total strangers. I certainly had never met nine total strangers who I knew I would be stuck with 24/7 for the next three months. It is such a unique opportunity to be whoever and all that you want to be. It felt so good to just relax and be my truest self. I made nine best friends on this program who know me at my truest and best self. That is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
There are so many unforgettable moments and experiences I will bring with me. Something I did with my friend when I came home was to share a visual, emotional, and experiential highlight from each country of the trip. Here’s what I came up with:
Visual highlight: the 360-degree panoramic view of the glowing, snow-capped Himalayan Mountains at Annapurna Base Camp.
Emotional highlight: finishing digging a 6-4-5ft deep hole that would become a septic tank for a rural village in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain.
Experience highlight: Hiking for ten days in the Himalayan Mountains.
Visual highlight: the brilliant sunsets in Dharamsala, India behind the mountains.
Emotional highlight: completing the ten-day Silent Buddhist Meditation Retreat at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala.
Experience highlight: staking out under a flimsy tarp all night long during a Camel Safari while it (torrentially) rained in Jaisalmer for the first time in seven years.
VIsual highlight: the rainbow sunrise over the coconut trees and ocean.
Emotional highlight: sharing an end-of-the-trip reflection activity with the group.
Experience highlight: snorkeling in the ocean off the shores of the Southern Thai Islands.
Coming home from the trip, I have a very empowered sense of self. I feel so capable and independent. I am excited to continue and deepen my exploration of the world. This is a stark contrast to the excitement, yes, but also the anxiety and nervousness I felt anticipating the Asia program. On the one hand, this is thrilling because I know that adventure awaits me. However, it has been hard coming home too. I am no longer satisfied just being at home. I feel slightly restless and thirsty to keep experiencing new things.
My gap year has pulled me away from a lot of what I previously thought was important to me. I say this in the most positive light. I am beyond grateful for this as I feel a grander sense of clarity on my life path and my values than ever before. I sense in myself the power to craft the kind of life I have always hoped to live. It makes me truly happy. I am so grateful for my experience with Youth International. I have truly grown so far beyond what I thought was possible.