What is Gap? From the start of the first semester, I thought the program consisted of traveling all the time, putting myself in new situations, doing service projects and having school work here and there. I had no idea that the coursework would intertwine with our work within the community we were staying with at the time. My eyes have been open to so many different views and my ears have been told so many different stories. This made it is very hard to form a cohesive opinion and back one concrete side.

After a whole semester of evaluation, I have now realized what the program is all about. The Gap Experience is a travel expedition like no other. While everyone is at the same place at the same time experiencing the same thing, everyone is struggling with their own battles and comprehending what is going on in a different way with different emotions to consign with those feelings. Though there have been multiple students who have been a part of different Gap Experience cohorts, each experience has a story of their own and no two cohorts are the same. My Gap experience was my chance to travel and put myself in new situations. At first, it may have seemed scary, but later I realized that these uncomfortable moments were where the strongest style of learning took place. VOBS reminded me constantly about this idea the instructors always said, “get comfortable being uncomfortable!”

When I was first asked “what did you want to get out of the Gap Experience” my answer was short, sweet and to the point; hands-on learning like never before, challenging myself and pushing myself even after failure, learning from it. After taking a second look at the question during one of our VOBS classes I came up with some more things to add. I hoped to come out of it with a strong group of friends who act like a family. I hoped I would dive deep into other cultures and really learn why they do what they do. I hoped to do this while still receiving a strong education, going deep into my studies through real-world experiences, which is how I learn best. Lastly, I hoped I would push my limits and come out stronger than ever before; physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Before Gap, I did not take much time to think about who I am as a person and what stance I take on different topics besides the fact that I am Catholic. I came into Gap knowing I was a thrill seeker, always looking for the next adrenaline rush from roller coasters, dirt bikes, rocking climbing, motorcycles, and so much more. As someone who loves to travel, I wanted to see the world from different points of view, so I thought this program would be perfect for me. Plus being a Girl Scout from preschool to senior year, I also thought the boundary waters would be the ultimate “camping trip” I had been searching for. Little did I know I would discover so much about myself that I had never even thought of before.

I realized I was a very ignorant young adult at the start of my journey. I knew very little about different places around the world, different cultures, government operations, and did not 100% believe in stereotypes, although I definitely let them play a role in my preconceived notions. After Gap, I realized that ignorance is not always bliss. I have strengthened my communication tools by talking with my peers/superiors. I have also strengthened my communication tools by advocating for my needs and using assertive communication. I have strengthened my time management skills by balancing school work with social activities. Due to the nature of Gap and things changing unexpectedly I have become very adaptable to any situation that arises. I have also gained a growth mindset which allows me to keep learning and bettering myself. Through this program, I have regained my own idea of confidence. I am slowly building it up each and everyday understanding who I truly am, instead of defining myself as who others say I am. Lastly, I have gained cultural awareness by hearing first-hand stories from my instructors at VOBS, the people at  St. Leonard’s house, those from Acoma Sky City, and coffee farmers. I also by hearing both sides of the story when talking about the Immigration System in Texas from: the immigration officers, immigrants who crossed the border, a judge, a lawyer fighting on behalf of the United States, a lawyer fighting for asylum cases, and volunteers who help with different organizations I was able to gain a sense of open-mindedness. Instead of impulsively choosing a side, I sit with my thoughts and make a decision later on or sit with the fact that I can not choose a side yet.

By taking the strengths finder test I was able to find out what my strengths and weaknesses are, which led to a deeper understanding of myself. It allowed me to figure out how I work and what I can do to change for the better. I discovered my top five strengths from top to bottom are: futuristic, restorative, achiever, consistency, and relator. Even though my top strength is futuristic throughout this program I was able to take a step back and instead of constantly thinking about the future I was able to be present and live in the moment. As for my restorative strength, it was very helpful during my VOBS course because if there was a problem I was naturally good at coming to a conclusion and solving it. The achiever in me helped me to achieve my goals of getting my schoolwork done while still being able to have fun with my friends and stay healthy. My consistency strength allowed me to view everyone on an equal level throughout my experience. This allowed me to give each side a chance to win me over but in the end, I evaluated each side under the same standards with as little bias as possible. Lastly, my relator strength helped me to form strong friendships with those in the cohort, even when we had conflicting opinions. I was able to understand from their point of view and accept them for what they believe. I was also able to apply what I learned to the past, present and future events/issues.

After awakening to all the problems around the world through this Gap Experience, I began to realize that these same problems are everywhere in my own community. I am going to contribute to ‘the common good’ by helping others who do not have equal food access because no person should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Malnutrition is a real thing and everyone should be able to enjoy life rather than focusing on the fact that they are hungry 24/7. I will take action by joining the organization PADS of Lake County. By getting involved with PADS I will become more involved with my community serving warm meals, making bagged lunches, and just being a person to listen. A  kind attitude and a smiling face can go a long way.

Photo credits to: Baylee Nelis, David Morgan, Patrick Gagnon, Pixabay

What a journey: Minnesota ->Chicago ->Albuquerque ->Texas ->Guatemala


Thanks for Adventuring!! 🙂

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