This year has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I don’t think words can describe how incredibly happy I am that I chose to study abroad for a gap year at NJC. If I could describe this year in a few words, I would say that it’s every possible synonym of amazing.
This year has made me more aware of myself and the world around me. I’ve gained so much knowledge that I can’t believe I did not know before coming here, and I’ve also realized that there is so much yet for me to learn! I cannot wait to learn about the world, its people, and its vast variety of cultures for the rest of my life. Although I’ve mainly just been in Europe the past ten months (unless you count the boat tour to Asia when I went to Istanbul), I’ve learned more about the world’s past, present, and future in such a short period of time than I probably ever will (although I hope I do). Whether it was learning about early civilizations of Ancient Greek and Roman history or random historic facts from Mr. Martin, or every Tuesday’s advisee trivia, or being a delegate for the Model UN conference in Leiden, or discovering how politics has shaped our world in Mr. Reynolds class, or learning about WW1 and WW2 in Mrs. Billinghurst’s class through beautifully crafted literature, or even just watching the news at my pension with my Madame, I’ve expanded my knowledge and understanding of issues of the past and the present and those that face the future.
I’ve also learned that travelling is probably the most enriching experience that one can have. I not only had the chance to learn through my classes, but I had the chance to have that information translated into real life. I was able to visit Ancient cities in Greece and Italy, walk along the Normandy beaches during D-Day, and learn about the history of all 24 cities that I visited this year. I was able to experience so many different cultures and languages, especially after taking Italian classes and immersing myself in the French Swiss culture. I found out soon after I arrived that Switzerland is not only about fondue, alphorns, and neutrality, but it’s also about big mountains, cows, and over-punctuality. Indeed this is not what makes Switzerland such a wonderful country, but in addition the diversity, the people, the languages and its incredible scenery. I am so privileged to have experienced all of the above.
While being away from my family for so long, I’ve truly gained an understanding of how important family is, and how much we tend to take advantage of the things that are always there. Although not everything is perfect, I’ve gained an exceptional amount of respect for my mom and dad, and I am so grateful that my parents want me to have experiences in life like what I’ve had this past year.
I’m especially fortunate to have become friends with such wonderful and interesting people. It has never been a dull moment with them as I’ve never laughed so much in my life. I am also so lucky to have shared a very personal friendship with two of my dearest friends: Olivia and Joseph. The friendship that I’ve had with them has touched me in two very different ways, but one thing that co-exists between them is the ability that I’ve had to connect with them on such a personal level that I have only ever experienced with one of my sisters.
This year has also taught me a lot about my weaknesses. I’ve come to a conclusion that my greatest weaknesses are public speaking, feeling overwhelmed, and setting my own standards too high. I’ve gotten to appreciate that I am my own worst critic. Nobody is harder on me than I am, and because of this I end up disappointing myself and feeling angry with what I have not accomplished, rather than feeling happy with what I have. I believe that the first step in overcoming these, is to acknowledge that they do exist. I’ve done that, and now with the confidence that I have gained this year, I can only improve from here. I have a while yet to go, but I’m working on it.
As the year was coming to an end I thought that I probably wouldn’t discover what I want to do in the future, but to my surprise, I did. I’ve decided that I want a better future for our planet, and in order to do this I want to pursue environmental chemistry. For whatever experiences I’ve had this year that have brought me to this conclusion, I’m not entirely sure, but I am incredibly happy that they did.
I could keep writing about this wonderful journey for another few hours, but unfortunately I have a word limit, a word limit that I have already exceeded. To conclude this reflection, I think the greatest gift this year has given me is self-discovery. I’ve learned about who I am, what I believe in, what I am passionate about, what I want to be passionate about, and who I want to become. And no, I didn’t find all of the answers. But I’ve realized that the enjoyment doesn’t lie in what the answer is and at what point you find the answer, but the enjoyment lies in the way in which the answer is found.
Thank you NJC for such a wonderful year.
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”