by Gaby Alemán
As a newly graduated high school student, one of the expectations that arise from planning a gap year is the idea that it will help you figure out what you want to study in college, which correlates basically to what you want to do with your life. Many students enter university without a clue of what they want to major in and I don’t blame them—making a decision that large at such a young age is intimidating. While I was wary to believe that I’d find my passion while on my gap year, I did expect it to help me get an idea of what I was interested in.
Education has always been close to my heart. For this reason, I decided to volunteer teaching English in Bali, Indonesia. I taught a class of 13-14 year olds and another two classes of 17-18 year olds. In my older students’ class, I entered into frequent discussions about the tourism industry with them; almost all of them attend vocational schools for tourism where they practice things like room service, being a receptionist, and being a waiter at a restaurant.
I began to see Bali, and tourism, in a different light. I remembered how much I’d grown annoyed with Ubud, the town where Eat, Pray, Love takes place, because of how touristy it is. Ubud is overrun with western influences that has begun to strip away its culture and charm. It made me think about how invasive and destructive tourism can be to a culture, especially in third world countries where they rely on it so heavily. I came to the realization that tourism shouldn’t be about the tourist, but about the culture and the locals you are visiting.
Eventually, I began to research different types of tourism and became fascinated with concepts like “responsible” tourism. Responsible tourism focuses on giving tourists genuine experiences in different countries as opposed to staying in resorts that give you no clear idea of how a country really is. I can pay for a resort in the United States if I really want to—why would I do that abroad? This question and idea has struck me so much that is has influenced me to consider studying things like hospitality and tourism, global business, or management and society when I enter university. I feel like I could really help people and a cause I care about if I went into a combination of these fields.
Even though I went to Bali to teach English, I was exposed to a completely new idea I never would have considered if I hadn’t gone abroad. Education is still important to me, but I think I might have actually found my passion. University, especially the first year, is a time to explore interests. I will still be doing that, but I’m going into my freshman year with a clearer idea of what I want to focus on, which I’m sure is more than some of my peers can say. Volunteering abroad helped me take a break from what I was expected to do and gave me time to expose myself to experiences that interested me.
Gaby Alemán is a UniversalGiving® Ambassador.
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