The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Katie Huge.

As I strangled my last goddamn grapefruit, forcing out every drop of juice, all I thought about was how tired my arms were and that they were about to fall off my shoulders. I had completely lost track of time and throughout my exhausting, citrus-juicing haze, I was slowly coming to two realizations: 1) I now had a much greater appreciation for why fresh-squeezed juice was so expensive, and 2) This would be my last shift at the restaurant I’d come to love. Where had the time gone?

With my gap year quickly approaching, I found myself retreating into things that felt familiar and avoiding everything new that came up in front of me. I worked a busy schedule at the restaurant, spent time with my oldest volleyball friends, cooked the usual fried eggs that I loved. What I didn’t do was purchase my bus ticket, pack, or focus on my pre-departure checklist. I think this is part of human nature; when you’re scared of something, you try to avoid it and pretend it’s not there. But never in my life would I have imagined that I would be having these feelings. I had always been an adventurous soul with a love of travel and a desire to try new things – especially new food. And while I am beyond ecstatic for my journey and grateful for the opportunity, I was also much more nervous and hesitant than I expected to be. It began sinking in that I was about to leave my home and would soon experience an entirely new level of independence. That’s probably why I found comfort in routine tasks like pouring water and wiping down tables during my last days working at home.

On top off my anxious and disorderly preparations, the Global Gap Year coordinators made it even harder for me to leave. During the Global Gap Year Institute, I gained a new family in my 2017-2018 Global Gap Year and Bridge Year cohort, along with the many former fellows and members of the Campus Y. I never expected to grow so close with such a seemingly random group of people in two short weeks. Two weeks is how long it takes for your high school teachers to finally remember your name, not how long it takes for people to feel like family. But that’s what happened. It happened over the course of the late nights talking past 2 AM, the daunting high ropes course in the blistering heat of the July afternoon, and the many filling, delicious, and free meals. But our bonding wasn’t all fun and games. Really getting to know each other required some deep digging, even though staying on the surface may have been more comfortable.

In the classroom, Sarah was extremely supportive as she guided us through tough discussions of empathy, privilege, and looking inwards at our own cultures and identities. I realized that the more we discussed the world and the experiences ahead, the more we reflected on ourselves. It became apparent that in order to serve ethically, not only would we have to be good listeners and communicators, we also needed to be humble, honest, and self-aware. There were times when things got emotional and hard to talk about, and these moments brought out some of the most vulnerable aspects of ourselves. I found myself opening up to people in ways that I never had before, and was surprised to find that my introverted self could actually handle it. The two weeks helped push me outside of my comfort zone, a space I foresee myself inhabiting for much of my year abroad.

In addition to stretching past myself socially, I also want to test myself in every other way possible so I can gain a better sense of who I am and what I want to do in life. I hope to spend some time looking inwards, thinking about what being adopted means to me, and becoming more comfortable in my skin. One of my goals for this year is to help teach others what it means to be American and that to be American cannot possibly mean to take on a single agreeing, homogenous form. If I can’t make sense of that experience myself, I can’t even begin to express it to others.

My global gap year started with a whopping 6-hour bus Megabus ride to the District of Columbia where I am staying with my aunt, uncle, and cousin while I volunteer with an organization called Thrive DC. This initial path is a bit unorthodox compared to previous gap year fellows, but I want to pursue my curiosity for the country I’ve lived in for 16 years and am struggling to love. In the wake of Charlottesville, our President’s decision to end DACA, and a season filled with deadly hurricanes, it feels nearly impossible to love a country that is so incredibly confused about across race, politics, religion, and climate change. However, as chaotic as I think this country may be, I have to remember that as Barack Obama once stated, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” I can’t quite profess my pride in this nation, but I suppose I can start with this token of appreciation as I head into the nation’s capital and begin my gap year journey.