The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Ander Naugle.

The first time I applied to UNC’s Global Gap Year Fellowship, I envisioned immersing myself in a country thousands of miles away from my home state of Florida. So, I applied through the Global Citizen Year path: a program that would have allowed me to live in Ecuador for several months. The thought that I would soon be breathing in the Ecuadorian air, feeling its tropical soil dance below my bare feet, working towards my Spanish fluency as I order from a local panadería, and become better connected with my Spanish heritage, provided me with felicity. However, the inevitable call came and Global Citizen Year had to suspend its program for the 2020-2021 year. I remember the feeling of forgetting how to breathe; I was devasted, broken, hurt, you name it. I didn’t know what to do, because, to me, a great gap year was based on how many miles you could go. But, oh was I wrong.

Despite my obstruction of vision and blindness to what really mattered, one of my friends could see the true value of what taking a gap year meant and induced me into taking a small leap of faith, an inch, and reapply for the self-design path of the Global Gap Year Fellowship. Moreover, despite the odds, we both became apart of the GGYF finalist cohort for 2020-2021.

Now that I am given this fortunate stroke of serendipity, I have the opportunity to become more self-reflective and develop a greater sense of individual purpose. Regardless of the fact that we have to stay domestic for the first portion of our gap year and I am not able to work on my Spanish fluency, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work as an EMT and gain not only medical experience but a greater sense of what true responsibility and trust feels like.

Now that I am a month into my fall placement, I have already gone cliff-jumping, mountain biking, waterfall hiking, as well as learn how to treat respiratory emergencies ranging from a simple hay fever to a life-threatening spontaneous pneumothorax. However, I still have so much left to learn and do. I am just now beginning to learn how to enjoy the journey I was given. So, even if it may seem boring, try to push through and always remember that no matter the distance, whether an inch or 1,000 miles away from home, self-exploration knows no bounds.