The following blog post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, McCarty Hudson.

While in high school, I would often find myself at this beautiful, secluded spot by the lake. A two and a half mile run from my house, the sandy beach I would sit on after a long day of school was just barely wide enough for me to stretch my legs out with my feet in the chilly water. The lake was my peace amid chaos. When I would get up and turn around to start the run back home, I would face the tests and assignments that seemed to loom in the trees.

I’m not totally burned out from school. I actually love school. I love learning, connecting with others, asking questions, testing theories, and finding solutions. But being so engaged day after day does take a toll. I found myself eagerly running to that spot by the lake more often these past few years. When I saw the question in the UNC application asking whether I wanted to be a part of the Global Gap Year Fellowship, I felt like this was perfect! Taking a year to travel and serve new communities was right up my alley. As the weeks of monotonous remote school went by, I felt even more eager to get out of the house and apply what I’ve learned in school to new communities and cultures. When Finalist Weekend came around, my excitement went through the roof! Every night after the calls, I would tell my parents an exciting new reason I should take a gap year, recalling stories from past fellows while having a giant smile on my face and this feeling like I could do something meaningful before going to college. I was also (and still am) not sure what I wanted to major in at UNC. I have so many passions and interests (running, art, music, history, Spanish, etc…), and I have always been a bit apprehensive about jumping into my college education without a clear major in mind. Moreover, when I found out I was accepted into the Fellowship, I was elated to know I would have a year to learn, grow, and narrow my interests before starting at UNC.

Fast forward five months to August 23, 2021. I’m leaving for Isabela, Puerto Rico, tomorrow. I’ll be working with people with special challenges and disabilities on a horse therapy farm and I cannot wait to start my journey there! This morning—with all of my excitement and my nervousness—I was drawn back to that blissful spot by the lake. But this time it was different. When I got to the small beach, I didn’t feel like a load was taken off my shoulders. I didn’t feel immense relief. Instead, it was like I was content already. I knelt to the water’s edge and whispered, “I am peace” (referencing one of my favorite children’s books, I am Peace, by Susan Verde) while looking out at the beautiful still lake. Then, when I got up and turned around, heading through the heavy trees filled with things to do, I found no tests or assignments hanging in the branches. Only peace.

I know this feeling won’t last through the entire year; there will be ups and downs and turnarounds, but I know for sure that taking a gap year is the right path for me. It is a time where I can learn about myself and others. A time where I can explore my passions. A time where I can serve communities. A time where I can step outside my comfort zone. A time where I can find peace.