The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Amelia Laursen.

Aug 29 2022

Wilmington, NC


This time last week, I was convinced I would be spending my gap year living at home and volunteering in a soup kitchen. I was convinced that I would have to go around and tell all the people I’ve told about my gap year, nope, I’m sorry, I lied, I won’t be going to Hawaii or Puerto Rico or California after all, haha lol so silly of me. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t get a job, I failed.

This time last week, I was distraught and terrified and had this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach because three months ago, within three days, I made the decision to take a gap year and what if it’s turning out to be the most boring, unproductive year of my life and the worst decision I’ve ever made.

This week, I’m joyful. I love life; I love where I am and who I am! I love the people I’m going to be working with and the things I’m going to be doing. I’m beside myself with excitement because I’m moving to Puerto Rico in five days. FIVE DAYS!!!! I’m looking back on my one-week-ago self and laughing because in the end, it all worked out, and it wasn’t really so bad after all!

There is a chemical in the brain, some kind of hormone, that is released after a person gives birth. This hormone (oxytocin) causes a weird phenomenon which makes the person forget the pain of childbirth to some extent so that giving birth a second time doesn’t sound so bad. I feel like my pre-departure process was exactly like that.

But, I need to take a second and really validate my week/month/two-month-ago self.

I applied to at least 80 different organizations, non profits, and internships. I sent countless emails and spent hours googling and researching housing, transportation, and programs in many different states. At times it really seemed pointless and at other times it was almost exciting, being able to dream about the places I would go and the things I might do. Because I really had no idea! But the pressure was on. If someone asked me “So where are you going and when do you leave again?” once, they asked me a thousand times. I would have loved to give a solid answer, I really would have. But that’s just not how it worked out for me. I hated seeing the disappointed or incredulous look in their eyes as I said for the hundredth time, “I don’t know yet, I’m still working on it, hopefully early September?” with that eternal, infuriating question mark on the end.

Maybe I imagined that look, but it still struck me to the core. I would lay awake at night and watch the skeptical faces of my friends and family members swim around my head. I know I probably imagined it worse than it was. In fact I’m positive of the fact that I internalized the pressure I was feeling from others and projected the disappointment I felt in myself back out to the people around me. But still. Watching my friends have solid college plans, begin packing for move in day, schedule classes, and generally have their lives together was a bittersweet experience for me. While I was extremely proud of and happy for them, everything was a reminder that I didn’t have my life together, I didn’t have a plan, and time was (it felt like) running out. I’m not really the type of person that is meticulous about planning, but floating around the internet all day, opening hypothetical doors hesitantly only to have them slam in my face, being ghosted by program directors and not knowing where I would be (physically or mentally) in two weeks or even five days was excruciating.

And then one single day, after one of those weeks where I was convinced I would be living in a cornfield in Iowa for my gap year, I randomly got FOUR different job offers and found a host family at my top placement in Puerto Rico!

And I learned something new. Gap year planning, or life planning in general, is just like that. The rollercoaster of emotions during pre departure took me to high highs, and low lows.

Now I’m rushing to do Last Things, like spending time with my family, visiting my grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles, driving like crazy all around NC trying to see my favorite people one last time before I’m gone for six months. I’m busy, I’m happy, I have a plan. And in the end, it was all worth it.

My advice to anyone going through the same-ish situation that I did is to work hard at it and even though you may be discouraged, NEVER GIVE UP… but at the same time, make sure you are taking breaks to spend intentional time with the people you love. I know that even if I did end up in a cornfield in Iowa, one thing I would not have regretted is making time to scrapbook with my friends, have game night with my favorite adopted dad, going sailing with my own dad, dancing with my mom and sister, staying up late and singing for hours with my cousins. Spending time with the people I love saved me during the planning and pre-departure process. They were supportive, and understanding. Not knowing when I would be leaving or when the last time I would see them was hard, and I did feel bad about never being able to give anyone a definite answer. But my friends and family understood. Looking back, I think it was a blessing that they were able to share in some of my uncertainty, because in the end, this allowed them to celebrate with me even more when I made the commitment to a placement in Puerto Rico and booked my first flight.

Invest time into those relationships that mean a lot to you, because they will always be there for you, just a phone call away. And they will be waiting for you when you get back home.

Now, all I have to do is look forward to my move to Puerto Rico this Saturday! Snorkeling and Sunbathing on Caribbean beaches galore! Oh, and I have to fill out my proposal. And consume three pieces of Puerto Rican Literature. And finish my first blog post, write my autobiography, sign up for my first social media take over Friday, order pepper spray and hiking shorts off Amazon, start packing for a four month stay, get a credit card, manage my bank accounts, meet with my host family, fill out insurance paperwork for the organization I will be working at, and also make sure I have plenty of time leftover for my family!

When planning my gap year and probably even during it, there will always be a proposal, a packing list, a meeting, insurance paperwork, etc. etc… in a manner of speaking. Again, I am challenging myself to take a step back and appreciate this time that I have with my family. While I will continue trudging ahead with my to-do list, I will have to simultaneously carve out time to deepen and solidify the relationships that mean the most to me. This liminal stage is terrifying and fragile and also exciting and beautiful. I’m enjoying every facet of it, hovering between holding on to home and moving forward toward my future. It’s hard, it’s easy, it’s necessary, it’s fun, it’s devastating.

I’m figuring it out as I go. And through it all, I have an army of friends and family supporting me.