by Emily Gabbard

Since my last blog post, I’ve experienced some pretty incredible things.

One of those things was hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

A person is supposed to train (a lot) for this hike. I did not train at all, and, furthermore, I was sick with the flu! I had to take antibiotics along the trail; in hindsight, I think those antibodies must have given me some secret power to get through the trek.

I was with a group of people, but I had never felt so alone in my life. It seemed like everyone else had someone with whom they were sharing the experience. This was the hardest thing I had ever done, mentally and physically, but it was the most rewarding experience of my life.

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Also, this was the perfect time for me to reflect on my past two months volunteering at the Horizon English school.

As I hiked, I thought about my amazing students I had been teaching for the past two months.

I realized that I had taught those students all I could teach them before I had to leave. I considered the profundity with which they had impacted my life. I thought of how, before I left, each one said goodbye. They even presented me with a gift.

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I also thought about how lucky I was to fully experience the culture of Peru. I grew close to a family that lived in La Esperanza and I was invited over for family meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I learned the customs of Peru. I learned that you must greet all elderly people, even if only saying a simple “hola, cómo está?” I learned that the women must kiss everyone on the cheek when they arrive and when they leave. I learned how to be polite by adhering to Peruvian customs. It was such an amazing experience to be taught the culture and customs of Peru sand to practice my Spanish through a close relationship with this loving family.

(I am happy to say that my Spanish has improved greatly since I first arrived in Peru.)

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Hiking the Inca trail was difficult, but I never imagined that getting on a plane, leaving people I have grown to love, knowing that I might never see them again or if I do it will be in a long time, would be almost as difficult.

Although leaving Peru was a sad moment, I am thankful: I am glad that my Peruvian experiences impacted my life in such a meaningful way that it made it so hard to leave. I’m thankful for all the loving and kind people that I met in Peru. I love my Peruvian family, mixed as it was with people from all over the world.

It has now been a month since I left La Esperanza, Peru. I am currently living in Kathmandu, Nepal where I will be doing several different service projects. I will be teaching English to children in local schools and also going to Bigu, which is a nine hour bus ride and two days of hiking, to teach English to the Buddhist nuns in a monastery. This is my current plan, but one thing I have learned throughout my gap year is that plans can change. I am excited to begin this next part of my gap year. It’s an invigorating feeling leaving the comfort of my small hometown for another life-changing adventure.

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Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu