By Gongga, Tufts 1+4 Participant
Passion, the official definition from Webster’s Dictionary, is “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.” This is certainly something that everyone has had. I, however, have had a hard time finding my own special passion because I didn’t know what it was that I really wanted to do in life that was truly enjoyable and worthwhile.
For the past 18 years of my life, like many of our other fellows, I fought for something that I thought I wanted, yet later on felt confused. I wanted to prove something to other people in my life, yet I also struggled because I wasn’t happy with myself. It was as though I knew exactly how my life should go one week, and then every other week was just a cycle that repeated itself. I didn’t know what I was looking forward to in life and it was scary. This is why I wanted to come to Madrid for a gap year instead of going to college directly, so I wouldn’t be so lost.
It’s been almost seven months that I have been in Madrid, Europe “alone.” Well, not exactly alone; I’m here with the support of my Los Mesejo family and Tufts 1+4 big family from all over the world. How much seven months can change a person is really hard to tell day to day, but even just by looking at myself in the mirror, I’ve noticed a bigger, and stronger, Gongga.
My physical changes are also comparable to my internal changes. It was only seven months ago that I was still on the field at Tufts, talking with my fellows about our fears and aspirations for this upcoming adventure . Like some other fellows, I was scared that I wouldn’t change or wouldn’t realize that I changed until many years later. Now, looking back, I laugh at how naive I was at the time. I have changed more than I could ever have imagined before. I would never have dreamed about traveling everywhere in Europe by myself, randomly making friends all over the world and challenging myself both physically and mentally. With each of my travels and the little mistakes that I made, there were experiences that I gained. I faced my fears through walking alone in the dark streets of a foreign city to speaking broken Spanish to ask for help when I was lost.
Nine months ago, if you walked into Brazilian Cafeteria in Somerville High School, I was probably the weird one you would have spotted who didn’t blend in well with any of the other students in the cafeteria, but who also would have fit really well with a stereotype of a typical Asian student. When all the other students were enjoying their short thirty minute break from tedious school work and constantly gossiping about their exciting high school life, I was there obsessed with my school work and preparing for the next test.
Honestly, if I hadn’t applied to 1+4, probably that version of Gongga would have just moved from the Brazilian Cafeteria to another cafeteria in Tufts University with exactly the same persona. If you ask me what I learned from these six months living in Spain, I’d answer now that there is so much more to life than just school. Even though education is critical and it is a rock foundation for the future and job opportunities.
I have to be honest with myself, in that when I first came to Madrid, unlike everyone else, I had no idea about what I was going to do or if I would really like to work with young children because I had never done that before. But, reflecting on these six months over and over, it seems as if my mood was on a constant roller coaster, with all of the unexpected twists and turns in the lives of the foster children. I now have such a strong bond with all those children that the experience made me realize that it’s not whether I love or hate what I’m doing in the moment, it’s more the necessity of just doing it and then discovering the joy that comes as a result of that effort. In the beginning, I felt I was not being accepted at the foster home where I was working, because I constantly felt like an outsider. Now, I feel like part of the family. The children are so comfortable with me and they constantly come running toward me and hug me, telling me how much they love me. They tell me secrets that they don’t want to share with others, or play silly games with me like re-arranging my hair. Still, I learned more from these children than they probably learned from me. I learned the value of family when I saw what strong bonds these children hold with each other despite being separated from their real parents years ago. I learned forgiveness by talking to some of the children, who held no vengeance despite how much pain their parents had caused them. I learned the genuine humanity of caring for each other even if society is unfair to you.
Despite the fact that we fellows in Spain don’t have a host family like the fellows in Brazil and Nicaragua, compared to them, who experience the real culture of the local people up close, we don’t miss out at all on the real culture of Spain,and through our travels in Europe, we had the opportunity to experience different cultures as well. We also experienced the freedom of being a youth in Europe, in a melting pot of diverse cultures.
Our relationships with the children and educators in the foster home is also similar to their integration into their host families. In the beginning, due to language barriers and cultural differences, many of us had a hard time feeling accepted, or blending in. Later, as time progressed, we created strong bounds that we are forced to break when we return to the States.
We, the fifteen fellows, are so different now even with the similarities that bound us together in this gap year program. I love learning about everyone’s daily lives through reading their blog posts. I learned so many great facts from reading Isabel and Daniel’s funny and educational blog posts about Nicaragua and Brazil. Sometimes, I also find it shockingly surprising how many similar emotions I share with some fellows. It feels great to find out that I’m not the only on who feels like I do.
I don’t know what kind of effect the next two months will have on me and I’m actually quite excited to find out. I hope I can find the state of mind that I wanted to accomplish. This gap year made me realize that there is so much more to life. It made me feel brave and adventurous and what’s more, it gave me a purpose and made me see myself more clearly. An old Chinese saying is “when the boat arrives at the turn of the river, it will know where it’s going.” This reminds me of my routine run in Retiro Park in Madrid. I have no idea where I want to go every time I start my run, then I will run up to a turn and see two or more ways to go, which seem just like the choices that we face sooner or later in our lives. But instead of being practical, I don’t choose the path to run that’s a shorter distance, or that has better views, but I choose the one that feels good in the moment. I like the unknown factors in life, yet I’m scared to face them sometimes. I don’t want go back to Boston, yet I do want to go back, at the same time. I want to show everyone that I used to know that I’ve changed. Or maybe I haven’t changed much, maybe I’m finally finding the real me.