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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

New Horizons

We recently got back from a two-week hiatus in Northern Sulawesi, another one of the many sprawling islands that make up Indonesia. Not only was it a much-needed time of R&R, but it was also a time of many firsts for me as well. It was the first time I’d spent a week in a place as beautiful as the Togian Islands and got to wake up every morning to the sound of the waves and a fresh, salty breeze drifting in through the open window. Every night, we’d watch as the golden sunset glinted off the water and cast dancing beams of light across our faces, the sky a watercolor painting of vivid pinks and oranges. It was also the first time I went snorkeling in a coral reef, ducking my head beneath the surface to discover a completely new world, a neighborhood of multi-colored fish darting through their vibrant homes. As I listened to the static electricity of the ecosystem before me, I realized that here, in this foreign territory, I was the silent observer, the trespasser, and that I had a responsibility to respect and treasure its delicate beauty. In that moment, and throughout the whole trip, I gained a deep sense of gratitude for something I’d always taken for granted – nature; how every single color, from the brightest neon blue fish to the most intense, luminous red in a sunset to the deepest black where the ocean shelf fell off into impervious and inescapable darkness, existed in the scenery around me; how everywhere I looked, I saw the way the earth grew and bent around the impressions man had left on its body, its resilience, its strength, and its indescribable vitality and life.

This excursion taught me that the world is so much bigger than I could’ve imagined. I came on Bridge Year to widen my perspective, to discover parts of the world and parts of myself that were previously unknown, and to push myself to do things I might otherwise never get the chance to do. And everything I brought back with me – the sand in my clothes and the sunburn on my legs – they all remind me of the memories I made on this trip and the lessons I’ve learned as I reconnected to a part of myself that was buried by years of strict schedules and iPhones and the ever present need to get from one place to another. I was able to take a moment just to breathe. To see. To laugh. To exist without worrying. To learn. Like a child experiencing everything for the first time, I was in a constant sense of awe and self-reflection; sitting in a boat in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but miles of water stretching into the distant horizon, a place so far from solid land and a sense of control I’d come to rely on, I became comfortable with having nothing to do but sit with my thoughts. I realized that every step I have taken in my past had brought me to that one moment, and that every step I took in my future would take me to one of the horizons far ahead. I was overcome with a sense of possibility and gratitude, both for the moment and the many moments to come, and my ability to recognize my own opportunities and be grateful for them.

I also learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. While sitting in a small wooden boat in the middle of the ocean, balanced only by two beams of bamboo to keep us steady as we rocked gently in the waves, we lost the anchor and the engine suddenly stopped working, and we began to drift aimlessly into deeper water, the rocking movement of the boat slowly becoming more and more frantic. Powerless in nature’s hands, I learned that sometimes the only way to have control is to give it up. To just trust in the process and work to fix the problem. Using long bamboo poles to pull ourselves against the current and working together to restart the broken engine, which finally sputtered to life after half an hour of drifting, we were able to return home. In a way, this adventure reminds me a lot of Bridge Year. Thrust into a situation so far outside of my comfort zone, it’s easy to become disillusioned with the experience. Sometimes it feels like the engine’s broken and I’m not going anywhere; like I’ve lost the anchor and I’m drifting through open water with no direction and no idea how to get back to land. But I’ve learned that it’s okay not to have all the answers and that sometimes the best outcomes come from drifting and letting the current carry me to a place I’d never expected. I’ve learned that nature – and Bridge Year – is unpredictable and volatile and spontaneous, and that around every corner there’s a new adventure – but that this is what makes it so beautiful.

On the way home, we saw the most beautiful sunset. It lit up the skies with a warm glow and cast ripples of glittering light across the water. With the wind blowing through our hair and whipping against our faces, we sped off toward the horizon.