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Written by Helen T.

Coming into college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. My university forced me to choose a major, so I declared the most ambiguous: exploratory studies. Although I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” I knew who I was: a quirky open-minded, empathetic, problem-solver.

Everyone told me not to worry, that I would “find myself” in college. So I didn’t worry, and the further and further into my college career I got, the more lost I became.

After sophomore year my advisor told me to matriculate into another, more specific, major since I had been “exploring” the studies of everything for two years. I hesitantly chose Human Biology because my Myers-Briggs evaluation told me that might be a good idea.

The summer after my sophomore year, I studied abroad in Peru. It wasn’t until after that six weeks, post-return from a foreign country, that I realized I was not being myself at all for the past two years. I had surrounded myself with people that cared so much about material items and thought nothing about the world around them. I was caught up in the world of college and forgot that it’s more important to think about the universe than yourself.

For a while, I tried to alter the people around me, to make them understand how minuscule their issues were in the grand scheme of things. I quickly realized that unfortunately, they were not the problem—they were content—I was the one that needed to change environments.

This was the pivot point of my college career. I found real friends that really cared about things that I cared about as well.

Although my first study abroad experience was monumental for my life, I think this one might be even more crucial in shaping me.

Upon registration to the AMIGOS Gap Semester in Ecuador, I knew I was going to be “old.”

First, I am just pushing the upper age limit. Second, when you apply you have to pick between gap year or semester. This made me chuckle because I just graduated college and there’s no box for “postponing adulthood for 5 more months.”

When I got to Quito and met all the cool people I have the pleasure to work with, I immediately felt relieved. It’s possible that half of the 18-year-olds coming into this are more mature than I am at the age of 22.

Despite my immaturity, I quickly realized that I was going to have to take on a leadership role. I felt an unspoken demand by my co-travelers to take charge in certain situations. If the group was going somewhere, and a decision needed to be made, I made it. Initially, this really bothered me. I think I might be the most indecisive person I’ve ever met… And I can’t even be sure of that!

Although I still hate being at the head of anything, I think it was necessary for me to be forced into a position of leadership. I have learned so much about myself through finally having a say in what I want to do.

The reason I was so skeptical about being a “leader” was because I didn’t want to be the person that dragged other people into stuff they didn’t want to do, like I did…all the way through college. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely took charge in aspects of my life but when it came to the big things, the things that scared me, the things that mattered, I took the passenger seat because I wanted to keep up with everyone.

Here I have learned that there is so much more power in being still and appreciating little moments.

When I moved in with my host family, at first I was terrified to be alone. But I wasn’t alone in the slightest. My gang here had grown ten-fold the moment I met Nancy and Edgar.

Every conversation that we have I am forced to pay close attention to due to the language barrier. This need to really be present, stay stationary, and just listen has allowed me to break barriers within myself that I didn’t even know were built.

This new mandatory awareness has taught me that the thrill I was seeking through extreme activities like skydiving, can be found at the dinner table over tea with Edgar talking about creationism vs evolution.

I didn’t need more, I needed to pay more attention.

I cannot wait to bring this new side of myself back home and show my friends and family that I really do appreciate time with them, I just need for them to talk to me in Spanish so that I can be more present in our conversations.

Just kidding.

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