Katie Hale spent part of her gap year focused on learning Spanish in Guatemala through Cross-Cultural Solutions.
Why did you choose to participate in a gap year program?
About two weeks after committing to a college and graduating high school I received my housing information for what would have been my freshman year and I immediately realized three months was not a long enough break for me. I needed time to rejuvenate so when I do start college I can be fully focused and take full advantage of my education.
How did you decide which gap year program was right for you?
I was looking for a program that focused on volunteering and learning Spanish, but also having a group of peers to share the experience with. Cross-Cultural Solutions checked all the boxes.
What was a typical day like in your gap year experience?
A typical day during my CCS program consisted of getting up to have breakfast with my peers, listening to my "pump up" music station on the way to my volunteer assignment in order to get my energy up for running around with the kids I worked with! Then doing lots of running/playing/activities planned the night before with the kids. After volunteering, I would have lunch and a short nap if there was time, and then a cultural-and-learning activity, usually to a nearby site in the city, or a Spanish, dance or cooking lesson. The rest of the night was free time which was usually filled with games and hanging out with the group.
What was the most memorable moment of your gap year?
Although it is nearly impossible to chose just one moment, my most memorable moment would have to be from my last day in Guatemala. I was working in a special education school for a month. There was one boy, named Emerson, who was in a wheelchair and had very few communication abilities. But we developed a daily ritual of him saying "vamos," meaning let's go, and me pushing him around the school or the soccer court to add some fun into the school day. On my last day his mom came and gave me two bracelets – one the colors of Guatemala so I would never forget the country, and one of Emerson's favorite colors so I would never forget him. I have been wearing the bracelets ever since and will always cherish the incredible feelings of joy and love that Emerson and his mother brought to me.
What advice do you have for teens looking at gap year options?
Make sure you choose a program that has the qualities that suit you. Some people don't do well on their own and a homestay might not be the best option. Others might not like having six roommates, as I currently do in Peru. Some people may not be comfortable working with a large language barrier, as it can be extremely challenging. Others might want intensive language lessons and to be thrown in the deep end. No matter what your preferences or concerns are, just make sure you choose the program that sounds right for you, not your parents, not your siblings, not your teachers, but you! Because at the end of the day, this is your experience and you are the only person who knows what is right for you.