This opinion piece was written by Sarah Montross and originally published in the News Observer.
When I tell people I’m going to Ecuador on a gap year next year before college, I get mixed reactions. Older people tend to respond with “I wish I had done that” or “I didn’t know something like this was an option when I was younger.” While kids my age tend to smile and say, “That’s so cool! I’d love to do something like that … but I can’t."
Why can’t you?
Failure is a driving factor in all our lives — from the fear of failing an exam to not getting into that dream college, and even finding the right path at all. Deviating from society’s norms is challenging, and not many people can get past their fear of taking a different path.
But why? Taking a leap of faith and struggling does not translate to failure; instead, it translates to growth and learning. In my life, the concept of taking risks and branching far beyond my comfort zone has become foreign. I feel like I’m expected to go from preschool to college without so much as summer break or time to reflect on who I am. I am expected to have a plan, and jump on the educational treadmill that leads me into the real world.
The problem is, how am I supposed to thrive in the world if I’ve never really lived in it?
When I decided to apply to become a Global Citizen Year Fellow, I was terrified. I didn’t think it was in the realm of possibilities to take a gap year, especially not in a foreign country with a foreign language. My parents didn’t understand, and I couldn’t explain exactly why I felt compelled to send in an application. A few weeks later I found out I was accepted into the program as an Ecuador Fellow. I’m going to spend eight months living with a host family, learning how to speak Spanish, and immersing myself in the culture.
When people ask me why I’m voluntarily putting myself in a country whose language I don’t speak and culture I don’t yet understand, I have trouble explaining it. The best I can do is to say, “I just know this is something I need to do for myself.” I crave an adventure that will allow me to fail. I need to learn from my mistakes. And I need to do it before I head off to college. Ultimately, I know that I can only grow if I’m pushed to my limits and forced to recognize my strengths and weaknesses, and figure out where where I need to improve.
You might be someone who would have thought, “I could never take a gap year.” What makes you hesitate to diverge from the more common path? What would happen if you challenged yourself? Most of us don’t know who we are outside of our comfort zone.
I never thought I would dare to push myself beyond what I thought were my limits. I’m the person who is afraid to ask the server for ketchup. So why am I leaping into a new country for eight months? I’ve become attached to my now-favorite quote: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
I still go back and forth between thinking I’m insane and knowing this is the right choice. I’m beyond terrified for what the next year will bring, but I’m not going to let my fear limit me.
Don’t let your fear stop you either. I challenge you to branch away from what is considered "normal" and experience life beyond simple boundaries. And I hope you choose to challenge yourself too.
Sarah Montross, a senior at Carrboro High School, is passionate about global issues and public health.
Discovery House, a service-based gap year experience for participants ages 18-20, will begin August 2018. Please share this information with an individuals who may want to participate or support this new ministry.