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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

End-of-Course Thoughts

Still I know
I’ve got to go!
Fly away, meadowlark
Fly away on this silver morning
If I stay, I’ll grow to curse the dark
So it’s off where the days won’t bind me
I know I leave wounds behind me
But I won’t let tomorrow find me back this way

These words by the venerable Stephen Schwartz articulate fairly accurately how I felt going into my gap year. After a year at college I felt lost and unsure where to go and what to do next. I hoped that if I took a year off and went away for a while, maybe I would gain more insight on where I fit in the world. It also seemed like a great opportunity to get in some world travel before settling down and taking on my adult responsibilities. I wanted to see the world, learn new things, and maybe discover something about myself.

And so here I am, having spent the past three months traveling around Nepal, meeting people from different cultures, challenging myself physically and mentally, now getting ready to board an airplane tomorrow and finally head home. Did I accomplish what I hoped to? I think these words by another Stephen, Stephen Sondheim, answer that question pretty well:

You’ve changed, you’re daring
You’re different in the woods
More sure, more sharing
You’re leading us through the woods
If only you could see, you’re not the man who started
You’re much more openhearted than you used to be

I felt it most acutely during x-phase. During the first day of our self-guided mini-trek, I thought about how much stronger I had gotten since we started out on our first trek a month earlier. I felt more confident and capable. Granted, we were at a much lower elevation, the terrain was gentler and my pack was half as heavy as it had been, but still I was proud of my accomplishments and was filled with the happy, peaceful contentment that comes only from walking in the woods.

It’s not just trekking that I’ve grown in. The first time I was lost in Patan, I panicked at the thought of asking for directions (which I did anyway, and thus got unlost). Now I can navigate unfamiliar cities, perhaps not with ease, but as an exciting adventure. I am comfortable being myself in this group, sharing my opinions, and learning from others.

I feel more confident now with myself and with my abilities than ever before, confident not only to travel the world but to navigate college and beyond. This passage, also by Stephen Sondheim (I’m a rather big fan), express how it feels for me to be going home after my year of travel and growth:

And you scramble down and you look below
And the world you know begins to grow
The roof, the house and your mother at the door
The roof, the house and the world you never thought to explore
And you think of all of the things you’ve seen
And you wish that you could live in between
And you’re back again, only different than before
After the sky

One big lesson I’ve learned this year is how exciting it is to get to know and learn from other people. You never know what a complete stranger might have to teach you. The trick is to take what you learn and integrate it with your own personal knowledge and beliefs, always improving yourself but never sacrificing anything.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to live and learn in Nepal along with fourteen other stellar individuals. Wherever I go next, I will always remember my time here and the lessons I’ve learned. My experiences here have definitely changed me for good.

I would like close my final Yak post with some words by Jules Bass (made popular by Glenn Yarbrough; neither one a Stephen):
The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.