The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Sitao Lin.

I have a habit of romanticizing situations in my head and my first placement was not an exception. Before I even departed for my gap year I had already begun to imagine the place I would get to visit, the people I would get to know and the experiences I would live. So when I actually arrived and things were not what I imagined them to be I was very much disappointed. I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying my placement so I took off my rose-tinted glasses and put on my boots and started digging. While I spent a lot of time digging both literally and figuratively I realized that sometimes you just have to get your hands and feet dirty to gain some clarity.

I realize that I enjoy structure in my daily life and being on a farm where my duties vary depending on the weather has been challenging. I struggle to feel productive unless I am working every waking moment so I had to learn to take a step back and just relax and take it slow. One of my favorite routines that I began to do on the farm was listening to podcasts and music while watering. There is something so therapeutic about listening to music while slowly showering the plants with water, hearing the water hitting the leaves, and seeing the glistening droplets reflect the sunlight. I learned how to slow down and appreciate the moment and not rush to the finish line.

I learned that I really appreciate the alone time but I do enjoy being around people. I am an ambivert, I have traits of both extrovert and introvert. I learned that I really enjoy cooking for and with people I like and it’s a way for me to share life experiences and bond with people. I learned that I have been missing so many of the beautiful moments in life because I was too busy looking ahead and planning for the future. I was blinded by my goals and ambitions that I can’t see the world around me clearly.

After spending some time reflecting I realized that standing out has a different meanings depending on who you are.There is standing out from the crowd and being looked up to and there is sticking out from the norm and being looked down on. I have always had to adjust my behavior around different groups of people. So when I flew across the country to a place where nobody knew me I stopped putting up personas. The only character I played was me, unfiltered and genuine. I was able to quickly connect with the host family I stayed with and I was able to do so while being my truest self. It was much easier to just be yourself instead of being different versions of you to make others more comfortable. So while I formed a close bond with the host family it was really myself that established a new relationship with.

In my next placement, I want to focus on service and positively influencing the community that I am with. With the new sense of identity and growth that I obtained from my last placement, I want to move forward as a new person. I am also looking forward to interacting with more people and especially people my age who might be in a similar or different situation. So while this service placement was not what I expected it was exactly what I needed and I am grateful for this experience.