The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Shelby Watson .

“I expect you to go to high school, graduate, and go to college.” This is what I have been told that I would do my entire life – no ifs, ands, or buts about it – until I decided to go against the grain and challenge that expectation. Throughout all of the craziness of senior year with applying to colleges and scholarships, I found out about the Global Gap Year Fellowship (GGYF) program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The description was more than intriguing: a year of service abroad before going to college. This was my chance to get away from the everyday classroom-based learning environment and experience life in a new way. I knew I had to apply.

Much to my surprise, my parents were supportive and let go of their previous expectations for me. As I applied for the fellowship, I remember thinking, “What am I going to do if I actually get it?” This is not what I, or anyone close to me, had in mind for the next year of my life. Yet, there I was applying for it anyway.

It took a few months to go through the selection process. During that time, I got the chance to meet previous “gappers” from Chapel Hill. Each one came with his or her own unique stories, but they all expressed a shared enthusiasm for the program. I heard about friends they made, flights they missed, and trains they caught. I imagined myself in their shoes, years down the road, telling my own gap year stories. By the end of April, I found out that I was accepted into the program. I was still a senior in high school, yet I had already become part of a family in Chapel Hill. This was a once in a life time opportunity and I could not let it pass me by.

As part of the requirements for the GGYF, each student has to complete at least six months of service abroad. During the first part of my gap year I will spend three months in Fish Hoek, South Africa where I will be interning with an organization called Extreme Response International. Its location in South Africa is called the Dream Centre. I’m more than excited to serve in a new environment, immerse myself in a different culture, and learn how to love others better.

Honestly, I cannot wait for years down the road when I can tell you my gap year stories. I have to start now. My blog posts will help you keep up with where I am at and what I am doing; and hopefully through my words you can imagine yourself in my shoes.