To the Class of 2018: Consider A Gap Year

As you are finishing this last semester of high school and are looking forward to college, I want to tell you what I’m doing next year. Instead of shopping for bean bag chairs, I’m buying work boots. And instead of thinking about who I’ll share a dorm room with and what class I’ll take, I’m looking forward to getting on a plane to a neighboring continent. So what will I be doing while you guys register for classes? I’ll be taking a gap year in Ecuador with Global Citizen Year.

My gap year isn’t going to be a gallivanting European vacation as a tourist visiting each country’s greatest hits. In Ecuador, I will be introduced to the wider world, living with a family, working as an apprentice alongside a community member, and finding my place within their already bustling neighborhood. My apprenticeship will focus on community development such as environmental sustainability or education and will allow me to contribute to the community rather than simply be a spectator.

I was first introduced to the idea of a Global Citizen Year year when my sister became a Fellow in 2014. And then I witnessed my brother follow that same path in 2016. I grew up in a family where taking a gap year is part of a valued part of a full education. My parents taught us to seek out and appreciate education inside and outside the classroom, and we were lucky to be able to visit my brother while he was a Fellow in India.

Joe Brett and his family visiting his brother Jordan and his host family in India.

The first few steps in this foreign land was an assault on all my senses: rhythmic sounds of people conversing in a different dialect, smells that were stinging my nostrils and the pervading oppression of a humid atmosphere. Contrasted in front of me were visions of rickshaws and Mercedes, slums and mansions all blending into one another. India awaited me. A large tea plantation among rolling hills, meandering rivers, and small homesteads is where my journey into this subcontinent was to take me.

As I roamed around the village a small crowd of boys approached me. One boy around fourteen holding a ball and a faded 2×4 tugged my arm and said, “cricket?” and before I knew it, I was in an alleyway standing in front of the wickets. I stood there gazing out towards the opposing wickets, seeing the formidable, rolling mountains, each with their deliberate polygonal vivid green tea bushes, a very different view from the baseball field in my hometown. Regardless of our environment, our cultural differences and our language barrier, in this very moment as he raised his arm, and I made eye contact with him, we spoke the same language, we understood each other and we both understood the objective. I could see the determined look in his eye as the bowler took his well-crafted steps forward and hurled the ball toward me. I launched the ball upwards and, while landing on the corrugated metal roof of a neighboring house, there was both jeers and cheers from the neighboring children. One of the boys wearing a torn American football shirt and ripped cargo shorts scrambled onto the house. He crept carefully to avoid the tarpaulin used to waterproof the homes. He grabbed the ball and stood looking off into the distance, down a hill into the local cricket grounds. Then I saw it, a look that changed my life completely. He looked at that stadium with a determined, destined look in his eye. A look that said, “I will be there one day. I won’t accept what the world gives me.” That look struck me because it was if I was gazing into a mirror. Throughout my life, I have expressed this same look – expressing  my desire to push beyond the status quo. At that moment we had a connection that no matter how much I try, I can’t shake. I realized that even though this boy may have been from a different culture, a different land, we are the same. Every person in this world has something in common: we are all participating in the human experience.

The connection I had experienced with him made me realize the connection between all cultures. It made me see that  human experience crosses borders and bridges continents. This experience made me fall in love with this world. I came home and craved for more of that connection. I realized that  Global Citizen Year would provide me with a year full of those experiences, and I decided then, that I needed to take a gap year with Global Citizen Year.

To the class of 2018, at Lawrence School in Ohio and around the country, I hope you consider that the world is smaller and more tolerant than it might seem at first glance. And a gap year could help you further understand today’s ever changing world.