By Faizah, Tufts 1+4 Participant
My 1+4 Story: Elizabeth
by Elizabeth, Tufts 1+4 Participant
Something I loved about playing violin was erratic and surprising improvement. I would seem to plateau for weeks, even months, working hard but without apparent payoff. My violin teacher would say “have you even touched the violin this week?” in a lesson for which I had practiced two or more hours a day. Then suddenly I would be playing one day and everything would seem easier. The shifts all landed, my tempo was even, my vibrato controlled. Those days made it all worth it. When my teacher would say “I can tell you’ve been practicing.” Because with hard work comes reward. It eventually pays off.
All of a sudden, Spanish stuck. Subjunctive rolled off my tongue without me conjugating or practicing beforehand. I would have real conversations without people slowing down or simplifying their words. I could understand jokes, make jokes of my own, and pick up on the passive aggressive tension in my office. People I talked to for the first time in a while all commented on how much I’d improved. I’m not fluent, I might never actually have a passable accent, and some conversations still leave me wondering if I have functioning ears or even a functioning brain, but I have improved so much. I can understand kids when they talk, understand nearly every word in office meetings, actually talk in those office meetings, understand my host mom on the phone, and talk to my brother’s friends about TV shows without once having to say “mande?” or “no entiendo.” Taxi drivers understand the address I tell them the first time, and sometimes people don’t immediately ask where I’m from in conversation. And it’s really cool. It’s really cool to see marked improvement in something I have struggled with for so long, something I sort of gave up hope on improving.
My 1+4 Story: Stone
Before my gap year, I was thinking of majoring in International Relations, Political Science or something related. Because of my experiences in Nicaragua and at Tufts since then, I have realized that though those relatively mainstream majors would look good to employers, they won’t give me the skills I need to accomplish what I want to do in life. The work I did last year on my CBIP (community based initiative process project) and a gap-participant organized workshop on the environmental impacts of littering combined with a city-wide trash cleanup event gave me experience with grassroots community development/leadership projects. This helped me figure out that these type of projects, on various issues and scales, are what I want to be the focus of my future career.
I went into the Tufts 1+4 orientation with about as much good intentions as ignorance. All I knew was that I wanted to help people less fortunate than me, but had little idea how to go about doing it. I was brought up surrounded by stories of individuals who went to far off lands and nearly single-handedly “fixed” the locals’ problems, commercials advertising the good feeling one could get from “saving” a child’s future for the small price of a cup of coffee, and the general culture of American superiority and white/western saviorism. As a result, I greatly overestimated my abilities, usefulness, knowledge, and irreproachability of my intentions. The Tufts and Amigos orientations and workshops opened my eyes to the way that white/western saviorism, voluntourism, and the desire to assuage personal guilt factored into my views and motivations. They educated me on the importance of working with and learning from community members and the value of sometimes taking a backseat or behind-the-scenes role in the process. If I made myself indispensable to the changes the projects enact, they would collapse when I left, rendering my work entirely useless in the long term. Through my projects I got to put my new knowledge to use and see how fully respecting, valuing, and engaging community members not only added to the quality of my projects but also of my friendships and experience as a whole.
Having returned from Nicaragua and entered college, my experiences there directly shape my decisions today. I realized that the most important things I learned last year aren’t the type of things that I would learn in a “normal” major. Most degrees would give me academic knowledge that I could then apply to actual jobs in relatively structured, rigid ways. If I only train for one thing, I will only be able to do one thing. If that one thing was exactly what I wanted to do, then that would be fine, but unfortunately, International Development is not an undergraduate major offered at Tufts. Working on grassroots level community development projects requires a host of abilities. Therefore, an interdisciplinary major is what I need in order to develop a well-rounded set of skills that I can apply to a variety of different projects in my future.
Peace and Justice Studies seems to me to be the best fitting major. Through it, I can learn about problems nationally and internationally that cause unrest and inequality on different scales, as well as potential solutions. It also has enough flexibility for me to choose how much I focus on each of those areas. Its internship-class combination requirement would let me use my knowledge in real-life situations and reflect on the process in a classroom environment in a way that would really round out my skills. The fact that I can major in it alone will allow me to take other classes in Economics, Education, and Global Health that will give me knowledge that I know will be important to my career, but are not necessary to the major.
However, the Peace and Justice Studies major is likely going to be replaced with Civic Studies. While Civic Studies compliments many of my interests, I am worried that it will not have a sufficiently international focus and will concentrate too much on government for my needs. I definitely want to work mostly abroad and in an NGO. I think that the US government generally approaches international projects with a savior mentality, and national governments in general are too large and disconnected from individuals to make the kind of changes that I want to make. Also, Civic Studies will only be offered as a second major. Thus, I would have only three years to fulfill the requirements of it and another major, giving me no time to take outside classes.
When it comes to getting a second major alongside PJS or Civic Studies, my experiences last year have informed my views there too. I now know that it would be a waste to take classes with the primary purpose of getting a degree and having something official on my resume. Their primary purpose should be to effectively give me one or multiple skills that will help me in my future. I did previously consider double majoring in Spanish, but ended up deciding not too. While I have already taken Spanish classes at Tufts and do intend to take more, I know that I don’t have to actually major in in Spanish in order for it to mean something.
Languages are not my strong suit and majoring in one would add a huge amount of unnecessary stress to my life. If I majored in it, a skill level near native fluency would be expected of me, which taking even ten Spanish classes would not give me. What I should do instead is to take enough classes to improve my skills, but then rely on using them in real world situations to get them beyond the point that I could from just classes. I’m also trying to take interdisciplinary Spanish classes. Analyzing fifteenth century Spanish literature on its own is not going to get me much of anywhere. But analyzing the relationship between different groups of people and the earth during the Spanish conquest of the Americas and onwards, as I do in my Spanish 22 Tierra, Clima, y Justicia class, will give me historical context to more deeply understand modern day dynamics in interactions between different peoples, the environment, and each other.
All in all, my gap year widened my view of the world and made me more certain of my choice of future career. My experiences gave me better priorities, rekindled my intrinsic motivations for learning, and redefined my ideas of success. Instead of wanting credentials that look good on paper, I want to expand my knowledge in useful ways and have the freedom to explore. I matured a lot last year in ways that make me more prepared to fully take advantage of my college experience to prepare for a better future.
My 1+4 Story: Evan
by Evan, Tufts 1+4 Participant
The beginning of college can be a stressful time for many people. After months of anticipation, you are abruptly thrown into a new environment and expected to make friends, some of whom will supposedly last you your whole life. This period of stress can last a week for some, and months for others. In my high school grade, there was one other girl going to Tufts, which was a social luxury that not all Tufts students have, however, I did not know her very well and figured that I would be mostly on my own making new friends. This was before I was accepted into the 1+4 program.
One of the largely unpraised beauties of 1+4 is the social network that you have when you return to campus. In addition to the four fellows in country with me, I had eight others who shared the experience with me virtually from their respective locations, as well as 13 more from the year before me who would be sophomores when I arrived on campus. While many of my peers scrambled around to find social groups in the first weeks, I knew that I would always have my friends from 1+4 to fall back on if I had any problems. They had all gone through the same crazy experiences that I had and would be more than happy to take time out of their days to spend with me. While many students enter college knowing people on their sports teams or through various mutual friends, I had four intimate friends who had lived and worked with me for nine months, who knew me better than many friends from home did.
This is not to say that I avoided making new friends because I already had a small network at my fingertips. Instead, I felt more confident taking my time finding new friends, thus I was not pressured to latch onto the first group of people that I met. Tufts has so many different kinds of people, and it takes time to find people that you can feel completely comfortable around. Being a 1+4 alumnus allowed me to take the first few weeks as a time of exploration and wait until I found the right group, knowing that I already had a tight group in which to confide when I needed it.
My 1+4 Story: Henry Baer-Benson
By Henry, Tufts 1+4 Participant
“I love the weather Cuenca. It’s sunny in the morning, rainy in the afternoon and cloudy in the evening. My only qualm, as a Minnesotan, is that it seldom dips below 55 degrees. Winter is my favorite season and the thought of going an entire year without touching snow is not a happy one. However, several weeks ago, I was in Quito with Stephanie and Maxito and we decided to climb one of the surrounding mountains. As we neared the summit, we came across a bluff that cast a small patch of shadow on the ground below and at its base was the largest snow bank I’ve seen all year.”
My 1+4 Story: Audrey
by Audrey, Tufts 1+4 Participant