I used to think that I could be happy living a simple, quiet life. When I fantasized about my future, this was one of the ideal pictures I painted in my mind. There was no denying that I also had a passion for the service of others, a life-long commitment to which I also fantasized about. However, I always figured that someday I would have to choose one or the other–a cozy, unbothered future or a future of bold action. I never envisioned it to be a troubling moral dilemma, but simply a distinction that everyone eventually makes for themselves. What I didn’t expect was for this choice to sneak up on me so rapidly, and ultimately turn out not to be a choice at all. The Gap Experience has made it clear to me that this decision has already been made. I now know that I am ready to launch into a life committed to social justice, environmental conservation, and global citizenship.
This realization didn’t fully happen until after I had been home from Guatemala for a few weeks. During Gap, I was exposed to a number of issues that made me incredibly angry and inspired me to act for change. We learned about the atrocious meal plans in Chicago Public Schools, the government policies that force Native Americans to identify as just one of their ancestral tribes in a slow, subtle, cultural genocide, the human rights violations happening at the U.S./Mexico Border, and the lasting effects of military hegemony and cultural imperialism in Guatemala, among many others. These injustices undoubtedly lit a fire beneath me, but that fire was also accompanied by a deep-seated sadness, a kind of dull ache that grew with each unimaginable inequity we learned about and stemmed from a place of naivety and uninformed idealism.
Before embarking on the Gap Experience I had been aware of many of these said injustices, but had never faced them up close and personal in such an unfiltered, inescapable way. It shifted my reality and forced me to question my every belief; question my faith in the prevalence of good over evil. Had I been approaching the concept of service wrong my entire life? Had I been doing more harm than good all these years? Has everyone been doing more harm than good by creating dependencies in their attempts to provide a preferential option for the poor? These strong, uncomfortable emotions fed motivation I felt to become part of the greater, conscientious machinery working for justice in marginalized communities, but it also appealed to my lingering immaturity and caused me to long for home, to long for familiarity and the bliss of ignorance.
This is a predicament that I had anticipated coming into Gap. As a child, I read a historical fiction book about the African Slave Trade and became so distraught about it that my parents had to lie to me and tell me that the African Slave Trade didn’t really happen in order to finally calm me down about it. Similarly, in this situation, I was so distraught about all the corruption and suffering I had been exposed to and was looking for an out. I was subconsciously seeking an escape–someone to comfort me by telling me it’s not really real.
Much of this feeling clung to me as we continued down to Guatemala. However, I often found refuge in the loving support of the community of students living and working alongside me. The tools for honest communication, conflict-resolution as well as the power of vulnerability and gratitude that we learned on our VOBS course remained extremely useful in our community of 15 students, as well as in our host families and my one-on-one relationships. Advocating for my needs helped me continue to win this internal battle between the side of me that desperately wanted to run away from these daunting issues and the side that wanted to fight.
Initially, coming home was a rush of relief but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the world I had returned to, the world I had grown up in and knew so well, had changed. I now viewed the world through a completely different lens. From the word choice of news reporters on TV to the political comments my grandparents made at Christmas dinner, my friend’s mission trip she was so proud and couldn’t stop talking about, the food I buy, and where I buy it from, etc. etc. All of it had changed and now carried a far greater weight than before. All of a sudden I was acutely aware that this world is the world that my little brother and sister are growing up in. The things they hear, see and learn shape who they are, and now that there are so many more things about this world that I have glimpsed the truth about, I feel an enormous responsibility to educate them. I feel a duty to make sure they don’t walk idly through life, supporting governments that provide weapons and training to those committing a genocide, or industries that exploit their workers and the environment. The fact of the matter is this: if I don’t want my own siblings living ignorant lives like this, how then can I be okay with anybody else’s loved ones living them?
This is the thought that I carry with me now as I dive into my undergraduate, equipping myself with the proper knowledge and experience to spend my career spreading the truth and serving communities that have been damaged by it. Whether this is through non-profit work at an advocacy organization for women’s rights, immigration rights, human rights, or environmental justice, I am invigorated at the thought of being at least one drop of water in a flood of goodness.