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The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Viktoria Alston.

If you asked six-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I’d say, “an adventurer.” Then you’d laugh, pat me on the head, and assume I’d figure out a “real” career when I was older.

As I grew older, I realized that “adventurer” isn’t something you can put on a resumé. It’s not a job you can apply for, and you sure as heck aren’t going to get paid for it (little did I know). You might figure I should drop that dream, right? Well, here I am preparing to take a fully-funded gap year abroad.

I came into the two-week Global Gap Year Institute completely unprepared. I knew I wanted to go to Peru, but I didn’t know why I was going, what I wanted to do, or how I was supposed to stretch $7,500 over one year of travel. For me and the nine other fellows, the two weeks seemed tiring and daunting. I don’t think any of us felt we could create a plan for an entire gap year in just two weeks, or form a close bond with each other in that short amount of time.

Luckily, I was wrong. We created a unique and amazing bond together through shared experiences like our morning walks to the Campus Y, the heavy conversations we had during workshops, and the late nights we stayed up talking.

The two-week Institute held many incredible moments, especially as I saw my cohort grow more and more excited and confident about the upcoming year. My cohort is comprised of nine other beautiful people who will support each other throughout our upcoming gap years and time at Carolina. I not only came out of the Institute with renewed excitement about the future, but also with a second family made up of past, present, and future gappers.

Despite my new family, my existing family and friends are constantly at the forefront of my thoughts. As a military child who has constantly moved, I know that no matter how convenient technology is, communication can falter when you leave people behind or can’t see them as often anymore. Life will go on in Hawaii once I leave. My friends will continue on with their first years of college, their first adult jobs, or in the military. I won’t be an active part of their lives for the next year, and a year can seem like a pretty long time; but although I may feel isolated from “normalcy,” I know that remembering my motives for taking a gap year will reinvigorate me. During the times I feel overwhelmed, I know I have a fantastic new support group who are currently experiencing similar thoughts and emotions.

In three weeks, I will be stepping off a plane into Caraz, Peru, a small town that I’d never heard of prior to finding my service placement. Thanks to I found a placement teaching English to children and adults at a small school. I will have the opportunity to gain experience teaching, which is a future career interest, and immerse myself in Peruvian culture.

Both fear and thrill dance around in my head when I think of my year ahead. I know I am taking this year to take a break from formal education and to develop a broader cultural lens, but doubt can oftentimes feel suffocating. These weeks prior to my departure will be spent learning more about Peru and spending time with those who have supported me thus far on my journey.

Over the past few months, I’ve realized that “an adventurer” is indeed not a career. It isn’t as simple or romantic as exploring the world and getting into dangerous situations. Instead, it’s stepping out of your comfort zone to do the things that scare you the most. It’s taking the unconventional path in life because it’s what you want to do; and it’s what I’m preparing to do. So, if you ask current 18-year-old me what I want to be when I grow up, I’ll still say “an adventurer.”

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