The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Nya Patton who spent the second half of her Gap Year in Northern Ireland.

In many ways, after the 7 months of traveling I have completed, my perception and ideas of the world have drastically changed. Due to COVID-19 my gap year has come to a quick and unprecedented end and I have been left with ample time, in quarantine, to reflect upon my experiences. I think the most noticeable and valuable change in my thinking has been this extreme widening of what is possible for my life. Growing up in one place, with very little access to leaving the country and exploring other lifestyles gave me the impression that there were not that many paths for my life and that there was a certain way I needed to live to be happy and successful. When I left the States for the first time and moved into a rain-forest in rural Brazil, I realized that this idea of one path was so very far from the truth. I realized that I could define success in any way that made my life feel fulfilling, and that I did not need to follow my parents’ footsteps to find that gratification. I also realized that I no longer wanted to define myself by the things I possessed or the achievements I held, but instead by the type of person I was and the quality of the relationships I had. Spending a weekend in a Brazilian Favela, where many of the goods I had access to my whole life, were no longer accessible or even widely known about, forced me to reconcile with whether those goods actually had value to my life and my overall well-being, and allowed me to began to think about what really made me feel content. Which led to many ideas about what I wanted to cut out of my life and what I wanted to make room for.

It wasn’t just the environment but also the relationships I made that changed me. Sien, a Dutch girl, Francesco and Chiara, an Italian couple, and Timothee, a German man, are all people I became really close to last winter. And they all had one thing in common, they did not use social media. It genuinely surprised me, but as time went on I came to see how I was spending hours indoors scrolling through apps to pass my time, while they would be outside painting, playing games, and doing things that came naturally to them but that no longer interested me as much as my electronic box of information did. It was through those relationships that I realized social media no longer held a purpose in my life, and that I wanted to direct my attention and time elsewhere. This has since allowed more time in my life to build deeper relationships with those people, and the people I continue to meet on my gap year.

Lastly, my experiences, have led to a shift in my goals and aspirations for my future. I have realized that I want to live a more international life. It is not the pictures in front of beautiful views, or the ticking countries off of travel lists that make traversing the world worth it; it is the people that you meet, the conversations you have, and the possibilities of life that you discover that you never really knew existed.