by Jamie Givens
I was in a Tufts 1+4 orientation session when I scribbled down the phrase that “success can be more abstract.” I scribbled this phrase into my notebook after I asked a question about the potential guilt that will accompany gaining more from my gap year than the community I will be working with. One peer mentor responded by saying that I was most likely thinking of success and improvement in a tangible way and that I needed to adjust what success meant to me. She then gave me an example of intangible success; building a relationship that would not only influence me positively but the other person in the relationship as well. At that moment, I began to include intangible successes into my definition of success. However, after three weeks in India, I started to feel guilty again with my impending apprenticeship, Teach for India.
Thinking of success in intangible terms is hard when I feel guilty. I cannot get over the idea that I will be gaining more from this experience than people who already have had less than what I’ve experienced even before this gap year. I do not think it is fair for me to walk away from this gap year benefiting from something that most of them will not be able to experience solely because they come from a low income household.
I am a teaching assistant for a third grade teacher. This is unlike any third grade classroom I’ve ever been in due to the lack of electricity and the sheer amount of children crammed into one, average sized classroom. A question that keeps coming to my mind is, “how can I think of intangible change when one classroom holds 110 children?” At the present, there is no importance in my self-growth when the children that are supposed to be learning cannot because of an overcrowded classroom. Where is the tangible or intangible success in that?
I know that, realistically, I won’t be changing the lives of these children drastically. I, also, know that just because I want to improve the world does not necessarily mean that the space I am going into to “help” actually needs my “help.” However, I still feel I should be a part of a bigger change. I feel like my individual growth is not a big enough contribution to bettering society.
As I reflect on what success means to me and why I am feeling guilty, I also begin to put my upcoming experience into perspective. Here I am, in Hyderabad, India, about to begin my apprenticeship with Teach for India, and my nerves are shot because I’m afraid of not bringing enough good to my work and to the children I will be working with. I can only bring what I know I have: compassion, happiness, and love. As I bring these three attributes I will, hopefully, see a positive impact manifest (even if that manifestation comes about in a surprising, indirect way.)