The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Sophie Nachman.

Friday night we all gathered in Richard’s living room for dinner. Richard, director of the Campus Y, oversees the Global Gap Year Fellowship with Sarah Smith, the GGYF director. There were about 16 of us: six of us fellows, and the rest a mélange of people from the Campus Y and other UNC programs, here to tell us stories and share their support for us over the next five years.

It was cozy. Belle the dog with her droopy eyes and soft ears kept padding around the room looking for bits of baklava, rice, and chicken kabob that may have escaped our plates. After some laugher and lots of wide-eyed stares from me and my friends, Richard reminded us, as he likes to do, that our gap year experience will be “a wave.” What he meant is that there will highs and lows, and he made a flowy up and down gesture with his hand, but in my experience not all waves are as smooth as the one he drew in the air.

After 18 years of annual beach trips to the North Carolina coast I feel comfortable describing at least three different kinds of waves. There are the ones that flow smoothly up and down, like Richard’s hand motion. You can float over them without too much effort or drama; they exist but are generally speaking not worth much attention.

Then there are those deceptively strong waves; the kind that seem easy to get through from the surface, only to be surprised at how far the undertow has swept you from your starting point.

Lastly, there are the big breakers. They are exciting until they knock you over, sending a rush of salt water up your nose, sand scraping against your knees and elbows, and leaving your lungs burning for air. Those are the ones everyone knows they should be scared of but that are sometimes hard to identify. They’re the ones that keep you on your guard, constantly sizing up the next wave as if your wave size mental math can protect you from nature. I suggest holding your nose, going under the wave, and holding on to your swimsuit.

Over the last two weeks, I feel like I’ve been swimming in emotions. I described it to my friends as feeling all the emotions all at the same time just in different proportions. At times, excitement, elation even, are the emotions I feel most strongly. I felt this way when I found my first internship placement, when Lauren was telling us about the pineapple and fruit farm she’ll be working on, and when Anna successfully monkey-crawled across a rope to save a rubber chicken.

At other times, I’m mostly overwhelmed. I feel like there is so much left to do and so little time.

Additionally, our group of fellows has become so close that leaving them to go off on my own seems lonely and quite frankly terrifying. Sometimes, I wonder if I will actually be ready for this. I think it’s okay to feel this way, because there’s usually another wave of excitement coming my way. These are the rolling waves.

The summer intensive has not been without the sneaky undertow waves though. Together with Sarah and Kaitlin we’ve talked about subjects that people simply don’t like to discuss in every day conversation. We’ve put ourselves in a very vulnerable place more than once, sharing very personal stories, and every time proving that we can be gentle with each other. Talking specifically about privilege and background left me feeling exposed and raw, a feeling I try to avoid. To be in a place of vulnerability and to find such support and empathy in your peers is an experience not common in week-long relationships, but it made me aware of the support and love that exists within this community and between my friends.

This was an undertow wave because I am not where I was two weeks ago, and I dare say none of us are in the same place we were two weeks ago. We have been swept out into the ocean, away from our former selves. I expect a lot more of this in the year to come.

Thank goodness, in the last two weeks I have not encountered any big breaker waves. I have been warned to look out for them, I have heard stories of them, and I am sufficiently scared of them. The truth though is that life has big breaker waves, and to take off on an adventure like the one we have committed to for the next year is to assume that risk. I know, however, that because of the community at the Campus Y and through the GGYF community that there will be people ready to help and support me if, or when, I encounter these waves, and for that I am grateful.