The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Simone McFarlane. Simone is spending the first part of her gap year in Mexico.

Being perceived is a strange feeling. Somehow, it’s outside of my control but simultaneously derived from my natural existence. Following suit, so many perceptions are made about me here in Mexico. Sometimes I feel as though I’m existing as another version of myself, incapable of communicating who I really am.

I’ve been saying yes to almost everything since I got here. Apart from an interesting camping trip, this habit has served me well. It’s most likely a symptom of me trying my best to be the most amiable person ever. A smile is basically always plastered on my face, even when I feel uncomfortable or anxious. There’s a lot that can be said about whether this is a healthy way of socializing, but this impulse’s source certainly isn’t healthy. As an American living in a town that has been gentrified due to American tourism, I often feel that I have to be the best example of an American ever. I think about every move I make. I make sure I’m not in anyone’s way, to not speak too loud, to not correct people when I know they’re wrong, so as to avoid the stereotype becoming the quintessential American tourist. Better yet, as one of the handful of Black people here in town, and as one of the few Black people that many of my friends know, I feel extra pressure to be a model example for my peers. This has gotten me into many awkward situations that I don’t know how to navigate; how do I correct ignorant comments when I’m afraid of being seen as insensitive?

Once all these fears are added up, coupled with the fact that I’m 18 years old, I seem like an even more bubbly and naive version of myself. At least, that’s how I feel I’m being perceived. I sometimes feel that people take my happy go lucky demeanor as a sign that I’m less intelligent. Sometimes I’ll be asked my opinion, but out of fear of seeming disagreeable, I’ll sign off on whatever is already being done. This is like self-applied torture for someone as opinionated as me. I’ll often want to offer my opinion or give constructive criticism, but I often stop out of fear that my opinion won’t be respected or properly interpreted. Consequently, I feel very isolated at times. It’s so hard to relate to people when you don’t know who to relate to them as; who am I to do this person, and how can I prevent that perception from being tainted?

So while I do feel in lindo with my identity, and somewhat removed from my peers, I’m so grateful for what Mexico has taught me. I’ve learned that the minute you obsess over what people think of you, your boundaries dissolve. You suddenly become available for anything, no matter the inconvenience. You start to live for others. That’s not how I want to lead my life, and I’m grateful that I recognize that now.