The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Nancy Alvarez Lopez.

Imagine your mind is clouded. Dark, foggy, inconsistent shadows surround your thoughts. Navigating your way through the harsh darkness, you gradually start seeing grey, which lifts in color until a bright light shines in your eyes. The overwhelming bright light causes all the inconsistent shadows to disappear. Now, there are consistent shadows that no longer surround your thoughts. But allow them to flow freely. That is the visualization of my gap year thus far.

Before departing for my gap year, my mind was clouded. I was unsure and very hesitant. Once arriving at my first placement, I began to gradually see grey. Finally, out of my comfort zone, I was able to learn more about myself. What exactly do I like to do? How do my morals and values impact my actions and decisions? How will I adjust to being in a new environment? I wanted to learn more about myself, but I did not know how to. I hoped that I would encounter the bright light that could allow my thoughts to flow freely.

I started my externship at an Exotic Animal Hospital located in Phoenix, AZ. No dogs, no cats. The only furry animals I encountered were ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and chinchillas. There were also reptiles. Aggravated snakes; that would tightly wrap around your hand. Tortoises; would do anything for lettuce. Bearded dragons that loved getting their vitamin D from UV lights. Oh, and I can not forget about the loud avian patients. From small cockatoos to peacocks, they all make your eardrum burst. Exotic animals were new to me; I had such a fun learning experience at the hospital. I was able to observe surgeries such as ovariohysterectomy, orchiectomy, amputation, etc. My time at the Exotic Animal Hospital was very eye-opening. I learned that even though I adore animals, I do not think I would like to make a career out of it. That is why I am so grateful for this opportunity. I now have no doubts. I was able to experience the what-if situation that is very rare to see.

If you were to ask me what my gap year has been so far, I would say one word; clarity. In just a few months, I was able to rule out a potential career path. I was also able to see how I use my values and morals in certain decisions. I discovered that I am more patient than I gave myself credit. Having more free time allowed me to learn more about myself and enjoy my presence. I have also started focusing on my self-care plan, which includes: listening to music, exercising, and playing soccer. The grey was lifting in color. That is why more than anything, my gap year is me. Discovering the little things about myself is all I ever needed. Getting out of my hometown allowed me to do so. Although, getting out of my hometown made me homesick; sooner than I imagined.

    With the new Arizona environment, I often found myself comparing everything with my memories of North Carolina. On the dry, scorching hot days, I missed the cool, humid air of NC. On weekdays, I enjoyed walking to the local coffee shop at 10 PM. with my new friends. My point is, even though I was extremely ready to get out of my hometown, I missed it. But since I made new exciting memories every day and got to do many activities I had never done before, I did not want to go back. Gradually, I started seeing the bright light I so longed to see. I realized that whether you’re traveling the world or living your same routine, there will always be ups and downs. Traveling will not cure all your problems, and staying at home will not always bring you comfort. As cliche as this may sound, your mindset is what will make any experience worth it. Stay optimistic. Smile more. Enjoy your new surroundings, and don’t take your seemingly monotonous routine for granted. Once you experience more than you were able to, the bright light will shine. Your mind will no longer be clouded. You will have a better vision for yourself. You will have clarity.