March 9, 2017
Because of what happened in Rio de Janeiro, I had to write an action plan to the Oakland office. Even though the process was extremely stressful, I learnt a lot from it and this incident actually has given me an amazing opportunity to reflect back on my experience in Brazil so far. Even though I kept telling everyone I haven’t changed, people who know me well told me differently. Having lived my entire life in a bubble, I have not had an opportunity to witness the real world and meet diverse people. Newton is racially diverse but not socio-economically diverse at all. Even though my high school has held plenty discussions on diversity, seeing it in real life is something completely different. In my cohort, I have met people from such diverse background whom I wouldn’t have become friends with otherwise. Just hearing about their stories and talking to them has made me realize how single-minded and privileged I am. Having grown up as the only child with two parents, I took everything for granted. Hearing about other people’s hard upbringing has made me appreciate what I have and fortified my determination to work hard and always strive for more.
The other night I was talking to my friend back home about my trip to Salvador. She asked me if I was disappointed because of how “dirty” and “ugly” Salvador is. I told her I wasn’t because my experience in Brazil so far has taught me to not judge a book by its cover. Instead of just looking for fancy restaurants to dine in and enjoy local cuisine, I was able to appreciate its culture value, its afro-brazilian heritage. After hearing my response, my friend was shocked because she said it simply didn’t sound like “me”.
This bridge year has also made me appreciate the value of self-reflection and spending time alone. My high school was called a “pressure cooker” and no one had the time to slow down and think about anything. I had no direction and felt lost when I graduated from high school. Going to college without taking some time off seems unimaginable to me now because I would have no idea of what I truly want to get out from a college experience. During my time in brazil, I have read 17 books on my kindle. I am gradually getting into the habit of reading, which wouldn’t have happened without taking a bridge year. I am not only surviving, I am thriving here. I’ve learnt to be comfortable by myself. Every book I’ve read, from Americanah to 1984, has taught me something I wouldn’t have gotten out of if I am not alone. Even though I am still not sure what I want to study, I can say confidently that I have more direction in life than ever before. Having alone time has enabled me to think back to my high school life. If you asked me a year ago what’s my favorite book, I wouldn’t have an answer because I am ambivalent about everything. But now, having reflected so much on every detail of my life, I’ve realized how I’ve always enjoyed explaining calculus concepts to friends; whenever I start my homework, I would start with mathematics because I tend to leave my least favorite things last. Before embarking on this journey, I’ve regarded this year as merely something different, but I am wrong about it. It’s more than something different, it is life-changing.