I decided to take a gap year because I wanted to learn more about myself before committing to another classroom experience after high school. While I have always done well in an academic environment, after 12 years of traditional schooling I was curious about what else I’m capable of. I wanted to leave my physical and intellectual comfort zones to explore options I would never know about unless I made the leap.
I happened to hear about LEAPNOW before I considered a gap year, from someone I met at a community event. It’s so true, do what you love and the right people and opportunities will find you! My mom suggested I apply to other programs that are similar to LEAPNOW, just in case it didn’t work out, but it turns out no such program exists. I did search online for programs that share some of the aspects I liked most about LEAPNOW, and applied to another program that sends students abroad for volunteer work. But I was set on LEAPNOW, and when the other program accepted me and asked for my commitment before I was able to interview with LEAPNOW, I told them I was no longer interested.
Best choice I ever made. LEAPNOW gives as much attention to worldly exploration as it does to inner, personal discovery. While students travel abroad for service and cultural immersion, we are also supported in learning about what makes us tick as individuals. And we get 30 semester hours of college credit!
I spent my first LEAPNOW semester traveling in India with ten other students and our two leaders. We stayed in places as diverse as a Tibetan refugee neighborhood in Delhi, the mountain town of Mussoorie and a rural village outside of Madurai. The itinerary was just as diverse, and included Hindi classes, homestays in Varanasi and building homes for economically and societally disadvantaged families. All the while we worked to keep our own little sanga happy and healthy by exploring the role of group agreements and the nature of community, commitment and intention. And we were responsible for keeping up with curriculum work, which included readings and essays, and daily movement and meditation practices, designed to guide us in cultivating our inner realities and discovery of who we are at the core of our beings.
For the second semester we were provided with an endless list of internship possibilities doing just about anything, just about anywhere. This is designed as a time for us to go out into the world as ’emerging adults’ and explore independence. Some of my friends/cohorts are now in Peru, Morocco, Japan and South Africa, among many other places, working with children, working with animals, doing photography and learning sustainable farming practices, among many other things. I chose to come back to India, where I am interning as a journalist with a human rights organization in Varanasi, and living with a family at a guest house in Sarnath.
I’ve been here just over six weeks and already have written a report on the violations against children’s rights in India, edited several articles and a book, and am now writing an extended feature about information technology education in several Islamic schools, all which will be sent to officials in the UN and various embassies. I have visited neighborhoods where the ‘untouchable’ and Muslim minorities live and have gotten to know some of the kids in their schools, as well as worked with translators to conduct interviews and participate in a convention for women’s rights. Outside of the internship, I’m constantly facing the challenge of navigating this crazy city, picking up some conversational Hindi with rickshaw drivers, and learning to cook with my host mom.
I have to laugh a little as I write this. I mean, I graduated high school less than a year ago and here I am living on my own in India, writing for a human rights organization. Every day validates the expression ‘fake it ’till you make it.’ And then I think, ‘Whoa, I’m getting college credit for this.’
The travel for each semester is bookended with retreats at LEAPNOW’s campus in Northern California which, although are much shorter, are often just as powerful as the time spent abroad.
During these retreats we build strong relationships with each other and the LEAPNOW staff. We continue, mostly through discussion, to expand our global perspective and are guided in learning to live as the community and individuals we want to be.
The entire LEAPNOW program is an opportunity for me to grow into a conscious being with a global vision, and every moment is a lesson that can be taken to any other part of the world, in any other part of my life.