The Benefits Of Putting ‘Life’ On Pause And Taking A Gap Year
Kelly Giuliani volunteered abroad as part of her gap year. She gave back on the IVHQ Tanzania program for 12 weeks. She is from Michigan, United States.
Maybe you’re in the same boat I was once in. You feel brain-dead from 4 years of studying through university, wanting to take a vacation, but not wanting to be one whole year older before you finally become that doctor or lawyer you’ve been focusing on since high school. Well, consider this: taking a gap year to travel and volunteer can create a better, well-rounded you, who will only be more ready to take on that career. Here is how volunteering in Tanzania has made me that person.
1. Giving Back
Helping out the local community provides me with the purest form of happiness I have ever known. I spent 3 months volunteering at a nursery school assisting with teaching, playing, feeding, and cleaning for 5-6 year olds. These children have the biggest of hearts in the smallest of people. Their eagerness to learn, compassion for others, and curiosity for the world is astounding. Within a three-month period, I was able to see the progress of my class and a feeling of great pride washed over me. Hearing the daily “Good morning, Teacha!”, getting chased by 20 kids who are jumping on my back, and helping students with their addition has never felt so rewarding. Giving back gives you a sense of purpose, strengthens your patience, and warms your heart. You will learn to appreciate the simple things and cement a lifelong passion for doing more to instill happiness in others.
2. To See Amazing Things
The physical beauty of the world is so diverse, and you need to see as much of it with your own eyes as you can. I believe I left my heart in Africa. From the island of Zanzibar to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, all the way to Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania has so much to offer. I had the wonderful opportunity to climb 19,341 feet to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro over New Year’s, trekking through 5 different climate zones. I think back to the shivering nights in the tents, the wonderful people with me, the views of river valleys, and hiking in the snow. Never have I ever experienced a feeling more liberating than standing on the roof of Africa, and I am always longing to be back. And, you can finally see those animals you’ve been dreaming about since your Animal Planet days. I was fortunate enough to see the ‘Big 5’ up close and sit under a tree watching a leopard feast on her prey.
3. Immerse Yourself in A New Culture
I believe it is imperative for one to experience a lifestyle different than their own. Experiencing a new culture first-hand will create a better understanding of the world. The landscape, the food, transportation, and of course the people, will all be something new you get the chance to try and explore. I remember my very first ride on the public transportation system of Arusha, called the Dolla-Dolla. My fellow volunteers and I were in the large van that crams as many people in as possible, feeling sweaty and sticky, driving through the dusty roads to get to town. As we arrived we were in awe with all of the beautifully arranged fruit and vegetables that were lining the streets, waiting to be sold. Still to this day I am longing to have another bowl of zucchini soup, a plateful of ugali, and a mandazi donut breakfast. I was fortunate to visit a Maasai village and see the way they live, their daily lives. I was part of a ritual goat sacrifice and learned about the traditional milk, meat, and blood diet of Maasai people. The culture of Tanzania never fails to amaze me.
4. Expand That “Comfort Zone”
Climb to the roof of Africa, drink goat’s blood, observe a lion from 20 feet away, dance in the rain, or talk to locals. These are all incredible ways in which you can step out of that comfort zone in Tanzania. This trip has also reinforced the concept of “living in the moment” for me. Too often are people thinking about the past or future, and forgetting to live in the now. When an opportunity arose, I went out and grabbed it. I realized only good things can come from saying yes to a safe situation, no matter how silly it seemed. Climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro was something I was terrified to do, as I do not have the greatest endurance and 19,341 feet sounds daunting. But I accomplished it and have reset the limits of my comfort zone. Having that nervous and scared feeling can be a good thing, as it will prepare you for future endeavors. Life has so much to offer if you let it.
5. Become More Independent
Volunteering in Tanzania was my first trip abroad alone. As this was one of my biggest concerns prior to leaving, I couldn’t be more happy with the decision I made. Tanzania has forced me to step out of my comfort zone as I didn’t have a friend from home to rely on. Because of this lack of a “home comfort”, I found myself doing things that I normally would not do. If I compare the version of me from before Tanzania, to now: a stronger sense of independence has been found. I feel more willing to go out and do things on my own. Traveling for an extended amount of time, whether alone or with friends, has a special ability to create a more independent you, which is a very self-fulfilling quality.
6. Become More Easy-going
Experiencing life in a new country teaches you the importance of “going with the flow”. Here in Tanzania, there are two clocks to follow: one being the normal clock we’re used to, and these second being “Africa Time”. Rarely did things occur exactly on time, and sometimes things would happen hours after. I have learned to appreciate the blessing Africa Time has given me, which is the ability to adjust my expectations. I realize things in life will not always go as planned, and it is important to be able to adjust accordingly instead of freaking out or getting anxious.
7. Make Lifelong Friends
While in Tanzania, I was living at a volunteer house where there were on average around 20 people at a time, from all over the world. Everyone there was so welcoming and friendly, as they had the same goals and values as me. There is something so special about befriending people from different countries. Of course, it is interesting to trade cultural and language differences, but the friends I have made in Tanzania have brought out parts of myself that I have never seen before. It is wonderful to have people in your life that have been part of such a meaningful and significant experience that do not live near you. I feel lucky to have friends worth missing, and whom I can now visit.
Trips like this one reassure me that I am doing the right thing in my life right now. That it is okay to not have a job right out of college, that it is okay to take a break from education, that I can better myself from an experience where I can emerge myself in a new and interesting way of life in a new country. I am thankful for my volunteering experience in Tanzania.
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