The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, John Swinea.

As I approach three months living in Hawai’i, it feels crazy to look at my previous blog post, because of how vastly different I am, only months apart. When I got on my flight to Hilo to move here, I had no clue what world I would be stepping into, or how quickly it would consume my being and create a new reality that is now completely normal to me. I currently live on an organic farm that also functions as a hospitality operation with guests from all over the world. On top of that, it is also a home to over ten other volunteers like myself. The dynamic of this community is like nothing I would have ever imagined, but there is so much passion, dedication, and love that flows throughout each individual to make a whole. Living in a community is not always as amazing as it sounds, because as much as each person can show love towards each other, every person still has their own life, emotions, and goals that can be stressful in a microcosm like this. As I have gotten the chance to experience this community and island, I feel as though I have grown so much and have been able to reflect on who I am and want to be, and every day there is always something new to grow from.

Originally, I intended for the second half of my gap year to be focused on a few things: learning about organic farming, spending time outdoors, and having a chance to spend a lot of time with myself. I was hoping to reflect on the first half of my gap year, as well as figure out what I wanted this time here to mean to me, and what I wanted to bring to my life back in Chapel Hill. I feel as though I have gotten to do all of that, but not in the ways I expected to at all. Not only have I gotten the chance to spend time on the farm, but the community has implemented a weekly farm class with an instructor, so I have gotten the chance to learn the intricacies of small scale farming, what it takes to maintain soil health and pest populations, as well as the daily maintenance it takes for a farm to run smoothly. I have been so grateful to receive this knowledge and gain the confidence to start a farm or even just a garden on my own one day. As I previously mentioned, the farm is also a hospitality operation through Air BnB, and guests can “join the community” during their stay. There is also an Inn that is on the property that I work at as a part of my work trade. I have been able to learn about what it takes to implement hospitality into this setting, and what goes into guest relations and room upkeep and flipping through my shifts as well as through observation. On top of that, I have been able to experience and become a part of a group of hardworking people who are all here to learn and share their life experiences with others, and I have been able to meet incredible people and make genuine connections that I believe will last a lifetime.

As much as I have loved my time here and have grown so much, it has been intense and exhausting throughout. Working five shifts a week that are all physically demanding, on top of living with and sharing space with people who were not long ago strangers has not always been easy for me. I do believe there is a certain beauty in it because it has taught me so much about prioritizing alone time when it isn’t always available, and setting boundaries with other people when they need to be set. I feel so much more confident in myself when it comes to asking for what I deserve, engaging in hard conversations instead of avoiding them, as well as the ability to work with all different types of people. Living in a community on a small scale has taught me what it means to be a part of something that matters and my ability to contribute to it positively by just being myself. I have also been able to witness how each and every person can contribute in their own unique way and every contribution matters just as much as the other. Although my place here isn’t permanent, I feel as though I have been able to make an impact on myself and this community in such a short amount of time, and I am excited to bring my experiences back into my life moving forward and during my studies at UNC.