The following blog post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Emma Lovelace.

When I dreamt about my life after high school, I knew I needed a big change. I was tired, burnt-out, and desperately needed a break from the monotonous workload and lifestyle during my senior year. Most weeks included procrastinating the majority of my work until the end of the week and then attending a local coffee shop in my hometown, Forest City, and not leaving until I was done. I was tired of moments of relief followed by loads of school work that felt impossible to accomplish. I have always been a high achiever and have been questioned about what motivates me. I never had an answer for this because in my eyes, it just had to be done. I knew school was what I was good at, so I made it my mission to excel. Even when doing most of my school work from home, I did not have enough energy or time to do the things I loved except for school. I quickly learned that completing this work without any social interaction drained me to a level I had never experienced. I was left needing a deeper understanding of myself and what fills me up. It is important for me to take this year for myself because I have not seen who I am without school as a confounding variable for thirteen years.

When asked on the UNC application, “Would you like to be considered for the Global Gap Year Fellowship?”, I enthusiastically clicked “Yes” and wrote two extra short essays without any further research or even considering what a gap year would mean for me. Not expecting anything to come from this, I was elated to be selected as a finalist for GGYF. After browsing the website, it miraculously sounded like everything I wanted. A year spent traveling and volunteering for what actually makes me passionate? Yes! After spending Summer Institute with fellow and past gappers, Global Interns, and Campus Y staff, I felt confident that this was the right path for me. The meaningful conversations and learning experience that has only just begun has already had an unforgettable impact on me.

I did not have a true preference for where I would stay during the first few months of my gap year, but I knew I wanted to do work in sustainability and environmental conservation. As an animal rights activist, I knew I also wanted to be involved with vegan organizations. After reaching out to animal sanctuaries, I finally heard back from one in Hawaii. After working as a caretaker here, I hope to go to Puerto Rico and work for an environmental non-profit or in a National Park somewhere in the United States. If able to travel internationally, I hope to explore Europe and Asia. I would love to spend time hiking, camping, trying new food, and immersing myself in a new culture.

Ever since I found out I would be taking a gap year, I have been so excited; it all seemed too good to be true. As I sit here now with a booked flight, anxieties have begun to pop up as I prepare to leave the only place and people I have ever known. Ever since I can remember, I have had an all-or-nothing approach to life. I wanted everything done well or I would not do it at all. This inhibited me from developing hobbies that I would enjoy. Though I am trying to unlearn this way of thinking, it has begun to develop a new and healthier meaning for me. With a break from structured academics, I will be able to put my all into others around me, myself, and my passions. All-or-nothing now means courage and persistence instead of the fear of failure.

If I began to list the number of uncertainties this year holds, I would be left frozen and overwhelmed. I am learning to not let these fears take control, but instead embrace them and know that this feeling is a good thing. Something great is waiting on the other side of my fear. Growth, expansion, and joy. New experiences, people, and places. I also know I am not alone in these fears. I have ten new friends embarking on a journey similar to mine. I have the support of them and everyone else in the GGYF family. I am so excited to start my journey and cannot wait to see the growth that is to come