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By Mimi Eshleman, M-A Class of 2015

A year ago, I was finishing up my senior year of high school at M-A. I was in the midst of conversation about where my classmates were heading off to next—the majority to college. It was amazing to hear chatter about people so young being excited about, in many cases, moving across the country to further their education at universities.

We often go through the motions, doing what we need to do to get the the next step, not really knowing the reasons for what we do. High school is an awkward time of throwing ourselves under pressure, yet craving freedom, all to get to the next step on the conveyor belt: college. We are pulled into higher education, never taking the time to evaluate what it is we really need, what we don’t know, or the moves we would make if we chose to be intentional in our decisions.

“It was absolutely the greatest transformative experience of my life.”

A year ago, I was breathless from being on the treadmill for so long. I was itching to create myself outside of the 13 years of school that had made its way into defining my character, what I should believe in, and how I should think. In searching for a way off the foot-in-front-of-the-other monotonous system, I came across Global Citizen Year, a bridge-year program that immerses graduated seniors, also known as Fellows, in everyday life in a community a world away from home. Fellows live with a host family and contribute to local projects in different fields such as education, health, and the environment. They break down the barrier between the classroom and the world.

This was the perfect opportunity for me to bridge the gap between high school and college, between my beliefs and my actions. I applied and became a Global Citizen Year Fellow, and spent the past eight months in Pune, India. I lived with a host family, learned a little Hindi, and taught the most lovely seventh graders at a government school. It was absolutely the greatest transformative experience of my life.

The classroom where Eshleman taught seventh graders.

The classroom where Eshleman taught seventh graders.

But I did not just wake up eight months later changed. It was a year spent outside my comfort zone and I was stretched into different realms of thought and ways of life. I was challenged by the juxtaposition between what I thought to be true and the reality I experienced before me. I was hit in the face by many of the world’s issues the moment I walked out my door. India was an impossible country to make sense of, but surrendering to the ways it makes you move and stretch allowed me to fall in love with a land so incomprehensible. That is why when at my Re- Entry Training, our Founder, Abby Falik, told us to remember the time we felt most alive. A tear fell down my cheek as the sensation of being so vulnerable to the unknown in India succumbed me.

My bridge year was not just a visit to India, it wasn’t just a trip. It is what feels like an entire lifetime of laughing and crying in the same breath, feeling the whiplash of what it is like here versus there. It is a special cross-cultural bond between two humans. It is the ability to see physical changes happening in your community in the time you are there. It is hitting your lowest point, only to be built back up by your new-found strength and grit, and all those possibilities that have been lying dormant for the years spent inside your comfort zone.

Redirecting my route to college allowed me to find more confidence in my values and beliefs, a deeper understanding of the world around me, and learn that all I need to do to change the world is be myself. This is difficult to learn when we are stuck in the tedious run of the treadmill, versus what we learn through the ups and downs of hiking up a mountain. I have never been so ready to dive into a next phase of my life with bold intentions and a clear idea of how to begin. I have never been so ready to fail and learn from that failure. What I learned in India has given me a kick start to my higher education, fuel to ask burning questions, and a spark to ignite my inner fire.

"This is difficult to learn when we are stuck in the tedious run of the treadmill, versus what we learn through the ups and downs of hiking up a mountain."

“This is difficult to learn when we are stuck in the tedious run of the treadmill, versus what we learn through the ups and downs of hiking up a mountain.”

What I hope is for more students to challenge the current norm and jump off the treadmill. Learn more about what the world truly needs, not what you think it needs; listen to the world’s heartbeat. Become more in touch with the sedentary voice inside and bring out the unquenchable thirst for learning and living the questions instead of seeking the answers. Most of all, I hope for more students to just be themselves. Observe what your heart is feeling and attend to what it craves. Dare to challenge the next step of destiny on the treadmill and opt for the route of struggle, adventure, and possibility.

Be curious, question. Dare yourself to plunge outside the norm, no matter how uncomfortable. There are many different routes, a bridge year is just one of them. Taking a ‘gap year’ is anything but a gap— it’s a bridge to greatness.

Eshleman (far right) with her India cohort.

Eshleman (far right) with her India cohort.

Global Citizen Year is the launching pad for bold high school grads who are hungry to make a real impact in the world, and to make college count. To learn more about Global Citizen Year, visit www.globalcitizenyear.org.

Global Citizen Year is committed to accessibility. To date 80% of Fellows have received some level of financial aid, and 30% have received full tuition.

The deadline for current seniors to apply to Global Citizen Year is May 12.

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