What amazed me the most about Orientation weekend was the atmosphere; you could almost feel the excitement in the way people spoke, thought, and acted. It was intense in an indescribable way, not implying physical intensity but an emotional sense of all that is going to be possible in the next year. To see the effect that that atmosphere had on this year’s fellows, myself included, was both inspiring and astounding. We went from complete strangers who shared nothing more than an acceptance letter to a team of like minded people helping each other prepare for a year of international work and adventure. Although we will all be spread to the far corners of the earth, I got a sense that with each other’s support added to that of the campus Y, we will never be truly “alone”.

The most difficult, and exciting, part of planning a gap year completely from scratch lies in all the options that are available. There are 196 countries in the world, and although a few of them are off limits (ie. North Korea), in reality our entire planet is fair game. As my year entirely depends on the decisions I make before I leave, I am finding it arguably more difficult to pick and choose countries and programs that I want to work with within those countries than to not travel at all. Then again, the luxury of choice is undoubtedly a very nice one, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

Currently, my plans have me beginning my gap year doing human rights work in Morocco and ending it working with DIA in Hungary. This still leaves me with a lot of room to grow and alter my plans as deadlines approach. Orientation weekend, and a few very kind and helpful people helped me to realize how much I could do on my gap year, and I plan on making the absolute most out of it.  I have to say a big “thank you” to the wise and experienced people (“gappers”) who were at UNC that weekend. They helped understand my motivations and feelings towards my gap year and kindly nudged me in the right direction. The stories of gap year fellows who have already completed their years also were very valuable to me, and their kindness as our hosts is also something I am very grateful for.

Some of the fellows and hosts on day 1

For me, returning to the “real life” of high school was extremely difficult after all the weekend’s excitement. Sitting in English class talking about Frankenstein seems trivial when compared to a year of work abroad in which I will probably learn more than in all my high school years combined. Fortunately, however, the sobering realization that I do have to graduate in order to fulfill my gap year plans has managed to somewhat put me back in my place. As the last laborious days of high school draw to a close and my gap year begins to take shape, I’m sure that I’ll know it has all been worth it.