The following post was written by Ella Shapard who is spent the second half of her Gap Year in Bali.

An excerpt from a journal entry written on my second day in Bali: 

“I can’t tell if I’m just coming up with excuses to leave because I can’t handle this, but this is really hard!! I’ve only been here two days and from the moment I got here, I began searching for reasons to go somewhere else, some of which I’m sure are valid but are they enough to justify leaving? I need to put more effort into socializing, but to be very honest I would rather not! I am feeling much more introverted here and my social battery expires really quickly. Feeling weak and frustrated.”

Arriving in Bali by myself was pretty scary. In my previous placement, I had the comfort of knowing that I could always fall back on my roommate and fellow gapper Jake if I ever got too overwhelmed or wanted to speak some English, but when I arrived at my new accommodation, I knew no one and felt very unsure about what I had signed up for. The culture shock hit me hard as I found myself in a really rural community with no public transportation, a language I knew nothing of, food with actual flavor (sorry Cuba, still love you though!), and a million other differences from anything I had ever experienced. I found that little, seemingly benign things made me extremely homesick, like not having a place to put my toothbrush because the bathroom sink was communal, the lack of sidewalks, or not being able to sit in my bed without having to get under my bulky mosquito net. 

I quickly reverted to a technique I used to rely on when I went away to camp as a kid, texting my mom constantly and trying to find a good way to get outta there! I justified my lack of socializing with the excuse that all the other volunteers were all leaving at the end of that week anyway, so why should I bother? I noticed that I felt unable to put myself out there, so I spent a good amount of time scouring to find a new placement elsewhere. I am already an introvert under normal circumstances, but in this foreign place with so many other new factors, my desire to withdraw into myself multiplied. 

After the first week though, I felt a shift as I adjusted to my new schedule and found some coping mechanisms. Some new volunteers came, ones that were staying as long as I was, and I felt myself slowly opening up. On the first day of my second week, I went swimming with some of the new volunteers, and as they began to marvel over the beauty of the rocky beach, the deep blue ocean, the schools of brightly colored fish swimming just below us, and our gorgeous view of the jungle and a volcano in the distance, I felt as though I was just now opening my eyes and seeing the beauty for myself, despite having already been there a week. I realized how lucky I was to be in this place where I was living a life I had been envisioning for years, doing important work to support the health of the oceans, swimming daily, scuba diving, and enjoying the lovely sunshine. 

So, this might not seem like some momentous struggle to a lot of other people, but I am pretty proud of myself for sticking through the loneliness and being able to find the joy and light that I was hoping for. I never could have imagined that the small fishing village of Tianyar would turn from a place I was desperate to escape into a place synonymous with home, and the people I met there would become some of my closest friends. Unfortunately, the home I worked so hard to build there was taken away from me a month early due to COVID-19, but I am so grateful and overjoyed that I had two months there. The experiences I had in Bali are going to stick with me for a long while, and I am so happy to know that they shaped me for the better.