The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Daniel Almaguer.

I’ve always wanted to travel the world. I’ve always loved seeing the world through a photographer’s lens, especially India – the vibrant colored powders during Holi and the sweet, soft candle lights on the Ganges River.

I leave for India in less than a week and I’m excited that I get to be one of those truly overwhelmed and transformed by the country (that’s what people say will happen at least.) People always said I’ll go to college, but that I’ll have trouble finding a job afterwards because college today is really not as helpful as college was in the past. I ended up applying to a school early action because my counselor told me I should, not because I thought I should. I never truly wanted to go to college if we’re being honest. I only knew that it was necessary.

But now…now, I’m here anxiously and excitedly waiting for my flight with a bank account that my college actually deposits money into. Now, I’ll be able to use my photography skills in real situations and I’ll be able to serve the community I’m in through work that will make a genuine impact. Now, I’m going to India.

Receiving this gap year opportunity and being at the Campus Y for our GGYF Summer Institute changed my mind about college. Throughout the experience, I finally felt that I had something in common with my peers. At my high school, I was one of the few who were actively and overwhelmingly involved with clubs. Now, I see that UNC is a place where it’d be taboo not be involved with anything. And I love it. I learned so much during the two-week institute and it was unbelievable how many great people I met. I found a family at the Campus Y. As cliché as that might sound, I truly did.

•••

I never shed a tear in my high school. In my two short weeks at the Campus Y, I did. Once was because we were talking about the deeply ingrained problems that our country has. I felt so helpless, especially knowing I knew people, family and friends, who have to battle those very problems. Other times, I cried because something was just so overwhelmingly beautiful. For example, one of the GGYF alums named Cecilia owns a food truck that generates scholarships for undocumented students. Every time I remember her, I want to sob because I’ve been given the Global Gap Year Fellowship and I get to go to college while my undocumented friends, who are smarter than me, never have the opportunity. It breaks my heart to think about it but Cecilia and people like her soothe my soul. I feel ready to return to the states and join the fight for them. But I know that I’ll be even better for it after returning from my Gap Year.

I’m going to India knowing I won’t make a huge difference. I just graduated high school. I don’t expect to remedy their deeply embedded societal issues, just like I couldn’t do in the states. But, I will go there knowing how true and meaningful work is done thanks to the GGYF Institute. I’ll grow, I’ll wither, and I’ll overcome just like the rose that grew from the concrete. I’ll get back to the states and use my gathered knowledge and experiences in my community service work through the Campus Y.

•••

In hindsight, my high school journey was preparing me for this adventure. I remember it like it just happened. It was psychology class. I was a junior. My professor asked everyone three questions: What’s your name? What do you want to learn from that class? And lastly, if you had to choose one place, where would I travel to?

I didn’t know. My mind really wasn’t focused on this new teacher. I was actually on my phone. I had just watched a movie though, and it was about an Indian cricket player turned MLB called Million Dollar Arm. I had no idea I would ever actually go to India. I just liked the movie.

He tried to deter me. He asked “India? Really? You know they use squat toilets over there right?” I knew that. I just wanted to get through the class.

There are plenty of countries I want to travel to. I’ve wanted to join the Peace Corps since I learned about the program in the sixth grade. But that moment stuck with me. I had a kind of epiphany when he said that (and more). It made me cringe how dismissive he was. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, but I always had a specific love for India. No culture is like India’s. And although it isn’t as developed as some other countries, its culture and people deserve respect.

In a world full of chaos, tyrants, and refugees, there shouldn’t be a place for discrimination, especially in an American classroom. We have enough of that ingrained into our societies. I am grateful that I’m part of the Campus Y and its mission to be the heart of UNC. I am moved, touched, and determined be a known force in the communities I’ll serve in my life. I practiced in high school with my full and overwhelming schedule. I gained invaluable insight from the GGYF Institute. Now, I’m prepared for India – for the colorful festivals, for the bitter culture shock, for the squat toilets. But honestly, I’m not prepared for the winter in the Himalayas. I’m from Houston, Texas, people.

•••

Thank you, Ms. Loveras, for making me apply early action.

Thank you, UNC and especially the Campus Y, for giving me this opportunity.

Thank you, Sarah, for being my new caretaker.

Thank you, Erin, for your help.

Thank you, GGYF 2017 and the past years and Bridge Year 2017, for being such beautiful people.

Thank you for reading this. You can follow my adventures at my photography account @unearthedearth!