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

During the two-week Global Gap Year Summer Institute I don’t remember any former gappers talking about bad days. Of course they told us funny anecdotes about falling off motorcycles or running lost through city streets, but not one person shared less-entertaining stories of hard times – like not fitting in, sleepless nights, and lonely dinners and weekends. During my time in South Africa I often wondered why this was. Why would they have not warned me?

I tried very hard to go into my gap year without extravagant or adventurous expectations, but I soon realized that I was still not prepared for the struggles. Maybe you can’t really prepare. But I do want to talk about them, just in case there is a future gapper out there like me.

Now that the first half of my gap year is over, I can see how the gappers could maybe “forget” about their struggles. Because when I think of my first placement in South Africa, I think of almost all good things. Yes, I do remember the hard days, but there were so many more good days than bad.

During the long tearful moments, I could not envision returning to UNC and being as pumped and excited as the past gappers. But coming…not full circle, but half circle…I can see how the tough memories slowly fade and the sweet memories resonate within. The daunting anxiety of not fitting in was eventually transformed into the excitement of meeting the next new face. The lonely weekends turned into unpredictable adventures.

As hard as it was for me to grasp, I now know that struggles are part of the journey. I have learned that I even appreciate the good days a little more if there are a few bad ones thrown in. Many tears fell in the past few months, but more laughs were heard. This is something I have to remind myself of daily. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.