The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Natalie Barth.

I have been home for a few weeks for the holidays. Issues with my next placement and outbound flight that were difficult to solve from afar led to me returning to the United States for the month of December. Every time we go to my grandparents’ house for Christmas, we attend the church service on Christmas Eve. At the end of the service, the candles are lit, the light is turned off and the entire congregation sings “Silent Night”. The moment the candles were lit I was instantly reminded of being in San Gerardo de Rivas when the power was out in the village after a few days of heavy rain back in September. The pitch-black night was lit only by candles and I had no connection to my family or friends for two days. Tropical Storm Nate also caused hours of complete darkness in Brasilito when it slammed into the Guanacaste province in the beginning of October and spurred days of flooding and power outages. In each scene, there was only a meager light flickering from the candle in the midst of complete darkness.

The past few weeks have been incredibly boring. While I was away, my parents moved 4 hours away to a new city. I often find myself dreaming of watching the sunsets over the rolling waves in Playa Brasilito, or longing to be at CEPIA with the children I worked with. Living the pura vida lifestyle made me realize how rushed we tend to live. Life in Costa Rica is slow-paced, peaceful, and so incredibly simple. There were times when this lifestyle was boring; there was never much to do and everyone seemed to be just fine with that. At this time last year, all I wanted was more time. Like most seniors in high school, I was rushing to finish college applications, send in test scores, complete my senior project, reach 100 community service hours, and keep my grades up all while working on the weekends to save money and get in shape for spring soccer season. On top of this, I was trying to not ruin relationships with friends and family and maintain a minimal social life. I never had any time back then, and seemed to manage it pretty well, despite a weekly mental breakdown and multiple sleepless nights. Clarity is found in a balance between the two extremes – realizing what goals you would like to accomplish but taking enough time to prepare yourself for the urgency.

This influx of time has allowed me to reflect on the first half of my gap year. I’m currently sitting in the same Starbucks I was sitting in three days before I left for Costa Rica almost four months ago. I was ridden with anxiety and terrified about the journey I was about to embark on. I allowed myself to overanalyze every impending problem I may face and worry about the situations I might get caught in. Now, I sit here, drinking the same iced vanilla latte despite the fact that it is currently 30 degrees outside. I sit here filled with excitement. I sit and wonder what I will learn and who I will meet while in South Africa. I sit here and reflect on my three months in Costa Rica.

Even though the darkness will come and sometimes I will feel like it may be the end of the world, I have learned to always see the light no matter the circumstances. Whether I am in the hospital dealing with food poisoning, caught in a tropical storm, lost in an unknown city with no service, or stuck in a car with a driver that won’t let me out, I can handle it. The beauty of this gap year lies in the unexpected. I don’t always know what is going to happen and I will never really know what I am doing. Furthermore, I never want to return to who I was four months ago. I now have friends from all over the world: Costa Rica, Holland, France. I have been able to experience the culture of a beautiful country like Costa Rica. I taught English classes to incredible teenagers and danced with three-year-olds and watched as their faces lit up. The children and teenagers I had the privilege of getting to know while at CEPIA will change this world in ways unimaginable and I can’t wait to watch. Although their lives have been anything but easy, they hold in their hearts an endless supply of hope. They have taught me that we are not defined by where we came from, but rather who we choose to be. When we are able to move on from the darkness, we are tasked with creating our own light to share with the world, and it is imperative that we do not overlook what we have to offer to others.