“There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon”

Today’s post comes from Kristen Lee, a recent graduate of Carrboro High School and former student of Mr. Matt Cone (a.k.a. The Coolest High School Teacher of All-Time, whose students raise thousands of dollars for global health and do the Harlem Shake with Dr. Jim Kim!) Kristen will be leaving soon for her “gap year” –  a year of travel and service before beginning college.  Everyday Ambassador is a HUGE advocate for establishing the gap year concept in America, and we hope you enjoy Kristen’s sentiments as our first of several tributes to the beauty and power of the gap year experience.

kleeTwo years ago, as the rain pattered against the windows and my classmates and I breathed in air that had already been thrice through someone else’s respiratory system, I began to feel trapped.

I was in English, with my fabulous teacher and classmates. Yet I could not believe how little experiential learning there was involved in my education. What was theory if without practice? My English class had just begun to read about and discuss transcendentalism. We were watching Into The Wild – Christopher McCandless up and left. Why couldn’t I? And what was my English class doing – learning the value of self-dependence in a heavily dependent classroom society?

Galvanized, I went backpacking that Martin Luther King holiday weekend. On the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, I howled at the moon as my sweat froze as it left my pores. I made wishes on shooting stars and truly bought into a grand vision for myself.

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

I trusted these words that Christopher McCandless had written. I had not yet experienced it, but I promised myself I would devote my time to experiential learning – whatever that meant.

A gap year is an unprecedented Chapter in my Story, one that gives me the opportunity to step outside of the classroom and return to Chapel Hill with a revitalized perspective. I will have the chance to experientially learn, 1) by witnessing and contributing to the fight against extreme global impoverishment that I have only read about and 2) by becoming a stronger and more assured person through the discomforts I will face in my months abroad.

gcyWith these reasons in mind, I chose to take my gap year with Global Citizen Year, a program that focuses on experiential learning. Starting in August, I will be in the southern Santa Catarina state of Brazil, living with a host family and devoting my time to a service work based apprenticeship.

Global Citizen Year adds not only structure, but also an extensive network of insightful and inspiring students and staff. In the midst of my service work, I will be consistently uncomfortable – struggling to learn a new language, struggling to be alone, struggling to become more than a tourist. Abroad, I will be forced to recognize my strengths and weaknesses and, better yet, I will become a stronger person for it.

Within my lifetime, our planet earth will hold nine billion people, more than 60% living in urban areas. A college education no longer promises employment, environmental issues seem larger than the human race, and accurate economic predictions are ever elusive. The North Carolina General Assembly is making a handful of changes and Moral Mondays persist. I am at this exquisitely beautiful stage where, because of my age, my generation is the future. By building a future of gap year students, we support experiential learning and all of its benefits – a stronger psyche, a creative, autonomous approach to learning, a time in life to deliberate and process.

We must develop an awareness and skill set that allows our generation to keep this world sailing above all of its uncertainty. Only by stepping outside of the classroom, taking one year off, do we grow to become bolder leaders.

My ambitions to take a year off are only set to come true with the help of Global Citizen Year’s Fellow’s Fund, and I am raising $2,500 before August 21st to support this fund. Why? Because a full Fellows Fund means that one day in the near future, every student in the United States could afford to pause before college and consider taking a year off.

I believe my generation has so much capacity to change the world, and you are most welcome to support my campaign if you also want to help young people pursue an education of experiential learning.  Also, you are welcome to follow my gap year blog!

Eight months ahead of an endlessly changing horizon, of new and different suns – what could be more powerful?  

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