Photo courtesy of Russell Gens.

Photo courtesy of Russell Gens.

The article is in partnership with Global Citizen Year. Learn about their plethora of awesome gap year programs and apply!

By Russell Gens, Tufts University (Ecuador 2014)

Had I been told a year ago that after wrapping up my bridge year I would call it a defining event in my life, I would have laughed. When discussing time off from their education I feel like many people throw around phrases like “life changing” or “The best decision I ever made.” I on the other hand, actively opposed this notion.

I had done my research, trolling through Yale’s extensive gap year information offerings, chatting with my high school guidance counselor, seeking out Lexington Alumni who had done anything similar, but it wasn’t until a good friend and Global Citizen Year Alum reached out to me in regard to Global Citizen Year that I made a decision. Frankly speaking, the description he gave me of Global Citizen Year’s model – that “It’s a program, but it’s not” – is what caught me.

I was a skeptic. I thought that the idea of a single year being able to change someone’s life was bogus. In light of this, a program that “wasn’t a program” was appealing to me. To operate within an organization that would be there in a pinch, but leave me to my own devices the rest of the time sounded like the perfect setup – no epiphanies required, no stress; just me and my life.

And so, cynicism and all, I was off. I moved to a rural agricultural community situated in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes and settled in. With my host family I would wake up before the sun rose, and go to bed after it set. I milked goats, I cultivated strawberries and I harvested eggs. Before I knew it, I was immersed in agriculture and I loved it.

The culminating moment of the year, however, wasn’t until I spent a weekend off the farm. With a local organic Co-op, my host Mother and I had the opportunity to head down to the coastal city of Guayaquil to participate in a march for World Food Day. Although I didn’t quite understand it at the time, while parading through the streets of downtown Guayaquil something inside of me was fundamentally being altered. Unbeknownst to me, by living and working with people who so passionately fought for organic farmers and the food they produce, I had discovered a passion for agriculture and the role that it will play in a sustainable future that I didn’t know existed in me.

This passion has proved to be a guiding force in my life since leaving Ecuador. Not only did I spend the summer working on an organic farm, using tangible agricultural skills I built over the past year, but also in doing so I had the opportunity to learn more about organic agriculture right here in the US. Through today, this desire to practice, improve, and learn more about sustainable agriculture has proven to be a driving force in my life. I currently am studying Economics along with Food and Sustainability systems in Tufts University’s department of Environmental Studies in order to learn more about our agricultural system and the place that small, sustainable farms can, economically speaking, hold in it.

Whether independently or with a program, in your hometown or abroad, I think that anyone considering what their next steps after high school will be should make the investment of taking a bridge year.

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