The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Georgia Morgan.
One of my best friends has always said, “If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth doing.” She claims that if something you’re aspiring towards doesn’t at least scare you slightly, then it probably won’t help you grow in the areas you need most. I’ve always been a big dreamer with wondrous goals and aspirations. I told myself I was going to travel the world, do my best to defend human rights, and save our planet. Here I am now, with a very unique opportunity to “travel the world” and serve communities in partnership, and yeah, you could say I’m slightly terrified.
The past two weeks on UNC’s campus at the Global Gap Year Institute have proved to be just as informative, exhausting, and exhilarating as I had anticipated. Each day I joined nine other wide- eyed, ambitious souls in fascinating workshops about cultural immersion, ethical and productive service, self- awareness, and much more. Every morning we’d gather for breakfast and head out on our walk to the Campus Y, sharing our hopes and fears along the way. We got to know each other very well through challenging yet necessary conversations and planning sessions. Our evenings were spent exploring Chapel Hill and talking late into the night. We had a nice break during the weekend when we had brunch at Katie’s house, took a trip to the Eno River, and pushed through a long, hot day at the ropes challenge course. There was never a dull moment with this energetic and spontaneous bunch. Little did I know that by the end of our two weeks my gapper cohort, our fellows, and the Campus Y community would become a newfound family of mine.
During the institute, I quickly let go of the previous expectations I had about “making a difference” in the world. My prior daydreams were very simple and superficial – I’d simply find a way to travel, work with well-intentioned NGOs all over the world, learn a lot, and “make a difference,” right? Throughout the institute, the reality of “making a difference” sank in. I know now that I will not “save” the world. Serving is not about going into a community and changing it because “they” need “our” help. It’s about working with a community in partnership to utilize their resources and create sustainable solutions.
In addition, my definition of service has changed drastically. I’ve learned that a huge part of serving is learning. I now look at service through a lens of growth; how can this community teach me and help me grow? Service is dynamic and involves interest, cooperation, and communication from multiple parties. I now see myself “making a difference” by opening up to new perspectives and ideas that a community has to offer so that I may be as productive and involved as I can in my partnership.
My time at UNC also provided space for self-reflection and awareness. I asked and the universe helped deliver. As this dream-like opportunity unfolds, I’m becoming more aware of my deepest fears and greatest challenges ahead. I’ve come to realize that one of my biggest fears is being alone – not necessarily physical isolation, but complete independence with no outside support. As the logistics of this gap year present themselves, I worry about getting lost, budgeting, losing my belongings, being on long flights, traveling alone, immersing myself in completely foreign cultures, etc. It’s a lot of change to handle at once, and the stress and fear can feel perpetual.
With this anxiety, I’ve reassessed why I want to take this gap year. Originally, it was because I wanted to take a step back from standard education and get hands-on experience with issues I’m passionate about while broadening my global perspective. While these reasons still stand in truth, I’ve come to understand that the biggest reason I want to take on this gap year is because it absolutely terrifies me. Everything about it is daunting and scary, yet exhilarating and alluring. When I hear all of my fears and worries telling me “no,” I can’t help but tell myself, “If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth it.” This is an opportunity that I know will result in massive growth and change. To me, the challenges that I’ll overcome to experience that growth are worth it.
At this point, I have four weeks until I leave for Cape Town, South Africa where I’ll be volunteering with a refugee and migrant organization. I’m thrilled to have found an organization dedicated to human rights through helping displaced individuals find resources and community. With a set placement and a plane ticket in hand, my fears and excitement are heightened. These next four weeks will be spent buying supplies, further planning, reading up on South African history and present day events, and spending time with my loved ones. This opportunity has made me extremely aware of and grateful for all of the people in my life that have shown unconditional love and support. From my immediate family, best friends, and boyfriend, to my teachers, peers, and newfound family at the Campus Y, I’ve received many words of wisdom and encouragement. I intend to serve with an open mind and compassionate heart while seeing fear and discomfort opportunities for transformation.