When discussing my plans for next year with friends, family, and mentors, my response is an outlier. I'm not going to college, or any school for that matter, I'm going to Serbia.
Let's start from the very beginning as Rogers & Hammerstein advised in "Do Re Mi”: What will I be doing? I will be attending Princeton University starting in the fall of 2011 putting me in the graduating class of 2015. It is through this great school that I have the privilege of participating in their Bridge Year Program (BYP) which allows twenty of their newest batch of admitted students to volunteer in one of four countries for nine months. I’ll be living in a homestay, taking language intensive for two hours a day, and volunteering for five to seven hours a day. For the first semester I’m stationed in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia after the capital, Belgrade. Then for the second semester I move to Niš, the third largest city. I won’t be alone; there are four other Princeton students and our program director traveling, learning, volunteering, and exploring in tandem.
Princeton’s BYP focuses on complete immersion meaning once I depart for Serbia on September 1st, I won’t be coming home for nine months nor will my family or friends be able to visit. I don't quite know what specific service I'll be doing. When I applied I expressed an interest in education, government, and gender studies but I don't find out my placement until BYP orientation from August 28th-September 1st. This orientation is comprised of the twenty BYP students and it is designed to prepare us for the coming nine months. I leave on Tuesday to visit family in Chicago and on Friday I fly to New Jersey and spend half a day with my beloved brother, David. Then Saturday comes and BYP orientation commences. Needless to say, I'm more anxious and excited that I could possibly express in words.
Why Serbia? In our day and age global awareness is necessary to actively engage in society making foreign study and travel more enlightening than ever. More specifically, the service placements in Serbia were of most interest to me. Additionally, I enjoy European history in which Serbia and its bordering nations have played a significant part. And most of all I'm interested in its current state. It is still in its rudimentary phases of development, especially in regards to the government, and it will be fascinating to live in a country while it’s establishing a democracy and perhaps even be a part of the social and economic changes through volunteer work. I know I would learn a great deal about myself through a year devoted to serving others in any location and Serbia’s current condition brings that journey of self-knowledge to a new level.
Perhaps you're simply wondering why take a year off? I want to leave my comfort zone, and this natural break between high school and college was the opportunity to do so as well as to refocus and do something positive in the world. I've toyed with the idea of taking a gap year for more than two years so when I read about BYP in the Princeton Alumni Weekly it seemed like such a dream. First of all being accepted into Princeton has been an evolving dream of mine for nearly six years let alone participating in a pre-planned, service-driven, globally enriched year. I want to view myself and my culture through someone else’s eyes and to learn more about the things that connect us as human begins across geographic and cultural distances. I would also hope to find inspiration and impact others. I have no doubt that leaving all I've ever known and dedicating myself fully to the good of others for nine months would help me to know myself better and learn how to use my passions to impact the world. Above all though is the fact that I have never felt called to do something in the way that I felt called to apply for and participate in this program.
So I’m going far. Farther than “a long, long way to run.” I’m going to Serbia.