After my first year of college, I couldn’t imagine going through the same experience for the next three years in a row. I was already sick of the same routine because, at that time, I wasn’t feeling like my normal, outgoing self. Although I knew I wanted to finish school and get my degree, I had little motivation and no idea how to fix it.
I looked into studying abroad, but when I heard about Education First’s Gap Year program, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was drastically different from studying abroad–gaining real-life experience in countries all over the world. Over the next 94 days, I would see some of the most amazing places the world has to offer, build friendships that would last a lifetime, and learn about other cultures through first-hand experience.
Going to all of these countries I had never been to, with people I had never met, where the only person who really knew me was me, forced me to deeply focus on myself and how I represent myself around others. With this, I experienced a new level of vulnerability that called for a large amount of self-reflection.
While on the internship portion of my semester, this new sense of vulnerability revealed itself more prominently than ever: I worked full-time as a digital marketing intern in Sydney, Australia at a company called Ultimate Travel.
I didn’t think I would experience any kind of culture shock in Australia, because I assumed the Australian and American lifestyle were fairly similar; however, I would quickly find out that, despite the similarities that some cultures may seem to have, there are so many hidden nuances that can only be discovered through experience. Even something as simple as my accent made me to feel like an outsider.
My internship didn’t just teach me how to optimize digital content, or how to manage a new marketing campaign–I learned how to adapt in an environment so different from my own and work effectively in a professional atmosphere. I ended up absolutely loving my internship and all of the people I worked with at Ultimate Travel! They even gave me a nickname, “Tinks.” On my last day they gave me a card that I still keep in my room today.
My itinerary then took me to Tanzania, where myself and five other gap students had the opportunity to learn about the culture and life of the Tanzanian people. We were welcomed into the environment of a small village, living amongst the people and engaging with the children.
This experience not only brought to light the privileges I have in America, but it gave me an entirely new perspective on life itself.
To the children and families in Tanzania, clean water is a privilege. Their day-to-day challenges were fundamental: food, water, and shelter. One would typically think that people facing these hardships would be struggling visibly; however, what I found so interesting about the children in Tanzania was that they were genuinely happy. They didn’t have smartphones, TVs, or computers, but they all had one thing in common: their love for life, and everyone living it!
The happiness, kindness, and love they showed me was truly inspiring and brought forth the motivation that I had been seeking.
My gap semester began with Guided Exploration of Europe and ended with Leadership Academy in London, where we all came back together from our different experiences to share what we had learned and our plans for the future. Leadership Academy successfully completed my journey learning about myself and this new motivation I had discovered; it was honestly one of the most amazing parts of the trip in terms of learning about others, bringing the group closer together, and really building that special connection we all have.
I learned my biggest strengths, practiced public speaking skills, and even got the chance to hear from executive business professionals from all over the world on concepts, like global awareness and self awareness! It was the perfect way to wrap up because it showed me how I could take everything I learned in my semester abroad and implement it into my life back home.
My EF Gap Semester has mobilized me to continue learning, growing, and engaging wherever I am in the world. It is something I am eternally grateful for, and I can honestly say that the memories, friendships, and even the wisdom that EF helped me create will be something I will hold on to for the rest of my life.
Helen, seasoned traveler and EF Gap Year alum, offers her advice on how to live in the moment while traveling abroad—advice that she practiced personally…