I have a lot of favorite memories from this trip. One that immediately comes to mind is from the earlier days of our Patagonia section. While driving along the Carretera Austral (a rugged highway that took us through the entire Aysen Region) to the Rio Baker to begin our rafting trip, we got a flat tire. This came to be a fairly common occurrence, but at the time, we were all a little stressed and confused. Our guide, Jona, immediately took a turn and pulled over to change the tire. We all got out the van and were truly taken aback at where we had stopped. We were in such a random, little spot just off the main road but the views were unlike anything we had ever seen before. The sun was glistening through these pearly white clouds onto a valley that stretched for miles, and all surrounded by some towering mountains. That's when I realized that we had just began our 6 week adventure in one of the most beautiful places in the world and no matter where we turn and looked, we were going to be nothing short of amazed.
One of the most unique aspects of this specific ARCC trip is how it pushed me both mentally and physically. I really enjoyed ARCC's curriculum alongside the adventure so we, the participants, understood where we were and what we were doing. Our course readers were always very informative and useful in guiding us to further understand the issues Chile and Cuba were facing, as well as giving us some general background. This became especially useful to me in Cuba when we were constantly learning about their health care, education and political systems. We were also provided many resources in Cuba like talks with local professors and doctors to broaden our understanding of how the locals live and interact with their communities. My leaders, JP and Alex, were also very knowledgable about environmental issues and overall history in both Chile and Cuba, so they were great resources too. Finally, our capstone project at the end of the semester helped each of us put all of our newfound knowledge together into one presentation. In terms of being physically challenged, this trip had a lot of hiking. More than I have ever done before, and often, more difficult than I expected. However, being with a group of people that I had gotten so close with, gave me the support and encouragement I needed to push through whatever challenges I faced. I never felt alone while being away from my family and friends and doing things that constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Another really unique aspect of this semester is how it combines two places that have almost no similarities. Patagonia and Cuba share the same native language, but aside from that, they differ in temperature, landscape, dietary norms, traditions, political structure and almost everything in between. Being able to experience and immerse myself in both of these cultures within the same three month period was really interesting and valuable to my broader understanding of latin american culture and the world.
If you're considering taking a gap year, do it. I made the choice halfway thought the summer before and it wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do at the time, but I don't regret it for a second. In fact, every day during my entire gap year and now, I think about how grateful I am to have had these incredible experiences and how different my life would have been if I just went straight to college. I was nervous and anxious to start my gap year... probably more nervous than I was to go to school, but I've ended it a more a appreciative, worldly, confident, and intelligent person with memories and friendships that I don't doubt will last forever. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it's true and it has all changed me for the better.