AnnaBeth’s Class of 2017 Continuation Ceremony Speech

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AnnaBeth Lane delivered this speech on Saturday, May 6th at the KIVU Gap Year Continuation Ceremony on behalf of the Class of 2017.

Last year around this time, I was standing in a collegiate basketball arena about to give my high school graduation speech. In the speech I remember concluding with an excerpt of an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote saying “I hope you do things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of and if you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again”.

Afterwards, I was praised for saying these words that weren’t even my words and many of my classmates said they teared up. I realize now that those words were a very nice sentiment, a nice thing to say and that people like to hear things that are nice. I realize that we can celebrate neat, nice quotations much easier than we can live them out and I realize the great rarity it is to actually do those things, to intentionally do something that scares us, to allow ourselves to feel the highest of highs and lowest of lows, and to truly embrace those who think differently. But today I realize though not many take on such an endeavor, we have.

Our gap year was rich. Many times we found ourselves in situations we never would have had we been in college or doing something else this year. Some of these situations gave us a sense of fullness and beauty and feeling more alive than we ever have. Some of them made us feel like it was all coming together. Some of these situations, in the moment, seemed undesirable, terrible even. Some of them made us want to go home. Some of these situations were just incredibly strange and hilarious. Some of them may not even seem believable.

So yes this year was rich. It was hard, and terrifying, and amazing, and strange, and everything all at once. It was discovering new foreign cities and finding our places in them. It was riding buses in Denver and feeling fully human. It was when your Indonesian host parents drove an hour outside of the city to take you to Texas Roadhouse for dinner. It was reading a book to the little girl named Tinka and it igniting a whole new world in you. It was finding community in homeless people and seeing Jesus in them. It was making and sharing meals together, even when those meals turned out to be overly salted burgers. It was when your favorite kindergarten student at your school hugs you and shares her life with you. It was being invited into the homes of different people of different ethnicity and religion and being accepted and embraced regardless. It was hiking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and feeling compelled by the story of a good Samaritan a broken land. It was meeting strangers that soon became dear friends. It was being overfed and paraded around by extravagant Jordanians. It was riding a moto through hills of Rwanda in just the right light listening to Heroes by David Bowie. It was walking into the sunset of Santiago then seeing the city light up. It was experiencing love from people who spoke a different language. It was realizing that all humans are humans, all worthy and important. It was summiting a mountain or finishing a trek through the Patagonia. It was being hit with the sudden, sweet realization that you can do hard things and that they are worth doing.

Then there were the other moments- the moments when wet stained streets didn’t treat us well. It was taking the wrong bus and ending up an hour away from where you’re supposed to be. It was almost crying at a social service office because you have no idea how to get a refugee a social security card. It was when you had a long commute and just didn’t feel like getting up. It was when you were just tired of your restroom being a hole in the ground with lizards running about it. It was when you felt lonely and maybe unwanted. It was realizing that you don’t know who you are at all. It was when your well meaning host family compliments you for being “somehow fatter” and you just want to go to your room and never eat their carb generous meals again. It was when you felt like everything you’ve known may not be true. It was when the world felt heavy and you did not know how to make it less. It was when you try to explain in Spanish that you were waiting at the bus stop and it translates as “I am a bus stop”. It was when you did not feel competent or worthwhile in your work. It was experiencing heart-breaking realities of humans different than you. It was thinking about things that people don’t want to think about. It was feeling helpless. It was feeling lost. It was feeling like you could not do it.

But gap year was all these moments, and you can’t have the former ones without those latter and not all adventures are pony rides in May sunshine. But though these moments, all the moments, we began the hard work of living a life we are proud of. We have taken ourselves up and out of comfortable places, displaced ourselves to experience a world more alive, more rich. And I am sure this experience will not be left in these moments, and that it will come back throughout our lives. I’m sure that because of it we will live fuller lives, fighting the good fight in this world whether that be through art or business or law or writing or social work or being an international pilot or a computer engineer.

I am so proud to be a part of such a beautiful cohort of people that may very way be the only people I can ever fully relate to on this experience. I am proud that we have taken ourselves out of the ordinary and proper places and trust that this will carry us all to lead rich, compassionate lives. So thank you Kivu Gap year allowing us to have these moments. Thank you to all the staff for supporting us and challenging us. Thank you to all our parents who let their child leave home to do something incredibly uncertain and unconventional. Thank you Kivu Gap year for helping us live lives we are proud of, and for giving us the strength to start them all over again.

Great Gap Year Myth #10: “You Can’t Succeed in College if You Take an Academic Break.”

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Meet Ashleigh Gerlach, inaugural Class of 2011, as she shares her perspective on Myth #10: “You Can’t Succeed in College if You Take an Academic Break.”

I was not traditionally successful in high school. Instead, I structured my time in a way that made sense to me. I took extra art classes, spent five days a week in a dance studio, and felt the effects of the travel bug earlier than most. From my vantage point (the average unmotivated student’s perspective), I did not see the value in high school academics, so I didn’t invest my time there. To be honest, I didn’t really have to work for a B average and that seemed good enough for me. As my friends started dreaming of colleges and careers, I couldn’t visualize mine. I was not a bad student by any stretch, yet still felt like one.

I didn’t receive a clear career revelation on gap year like I had hoped, so I started community college.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that my personal growth and developing worldview would enhance my ability to succeed in my undergraduate degree. The skills I learned on gap year turned into healthy habits so quickly that I had no idea I was using them every day. I was paying attention to what made me uncomfortable and leaning into those areas to grow. I listened to the people around me to better understand their lives. I found that I wasn’t afraid of what I didn’t know, which ended up making it very easy to choose a major that I had no prior interest in choosing.

I thought nursing might play to my strengths well while also addressing areas where I knew I was weak, areas I had identified on gap year and continued to pay attention to in my early college days. I picked a four-year nursing program with local and global community involvement and questioned what my nursing career would look like in both contexts. I found that I was better able to excel in nursing classes largely due to the self-awareness and self-management skills I learned on my gap year. I sought out the bigger picture in classes and concepts and took initiative to make my clinical experiences more fruitful.

Although I did encounter traditional academic success in both two-year and four-year institutions, my personal definition of success was shaped by gap year. Though I took pride in my improved GPA, I never felt motivated by it. I spent extra time with my professors to learn their stories and listen to their insights. My view of higher education shifted from a destination to an experience – an experience that was almost entirely up to me to shape. I found more personal reasons to excel in the university setting, which to me is more success than I could have asked for as an unenthusiastic eighteen-year-old.

Facebook: Ashleigh Gerlach

Email: agerlach@northpark.edu

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Great Gap Year Myth #9: “It Won’t Benefit Me after College.”

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Meet Britley Potter, Class of 2014, as she shares her perspective on Myth #9: It Won’t Benefit me after college.”

When I was first accepted into KIVU Gap Year and began telling my teachers and peers about it, the same question was being asked over and over again: Well, how will this benefit you in the long run? Honestly, I couldn’t give them an answer. Having graduated from the program in 2014, and graduating this year from college, I can now say that the lessons I learned on gap year are lessons that I never learned in the traditional classroom setting and have better prepared me for the real world after graduation.

We live in a society today that highly values cultural competency. You are thrown into very diverse settings while on KIVU Gap Year and it is impossible to graduate from the program without being more aware of events happening in our world, how to work effectively with people from different backgrounds, and to have a better appreciation for diversity. Once again, this is a lesson that can not be learned through a textbook and I am thankful KIVU Gap Year provided opportunities for me to become more culturally competent, a skill all employers value.

During my time in Denver, I had many classes that focused on finding my strengths and weaknesses which helped me identify my passions and goals. Our teachers used tools such as the Myers Briggs Test, the Enneagram 9 types test, and the 5 love languages test helping us understand ourselves and one another better. With this knowledge I was able to pinpoint the calling Jesus has for my life—something that hugely benefits me in the real world post grad. While in Jordan I completed a month long relational training course at Ithra’a which helped me grow into a more emotionally intelligent person. The great thing about KIVU Gap Year is that they are big picture focused.  They want to see you succeed after you graduate from college and equip you with the tools to do so.

So if you’re sitting here thinking, “Well, how will this program benefit me in the long run?” I hope I was able to share some insight into all the life-long lessons this gap year has taught me. These are skills that will not only benefit you while in college, but in all aspects of your life including your vocation, your relationships, and your faith. I am forever grateful for the lessons learned and opportunities I had while on the KIVU Gap Year. I can not wait to see what the future holds for me…and for you as you consider embarking on this incredible journey! Best wishes.

-Britley Potter, Class of 2014

Instagram: brit.potter

Facebook: Britley Potter

Personal Blog/Website: britpotter.com

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Great Gap Year Myth #8: “It Won’t Benefit Me in College.”

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This myth is brought to you by Hannah Giffen, Class of 2016.  

This myth is a fun one. I chose this myth because so many people have asked me something like this, “Well, how did what you experienced in Africa, help you in Norman, Oklahoma?” Every time I get a question like that, I look at the person and say, “Everything I experienced everywhere is helping me with everything in Norman, Oklahoma.” Funny, right?

I did an entire year of college before I took my gap year, and man was I doing it wrong. Not only was I confused about my major and what I wanted to do after college.  I had no idea how to live or what living even meant. I did not understand true friendships and I definitely did not understand the value of everything I have. Not the money value, the true value.

During my time in Washington D.C., I learned to love everyone for who they are. I took that to every other destination and challenged myself to love everyone in every place. In Africa, I learned the value of life, unity, and family. On Kilimanjaro, I learned I am capable of anything because God is sitting right on my shoulder even if I cannot hear Him. In the Middle East, I learned that even in the most holy of holy places, you can still feel so alone spiritually, but that does not mean God is not listening. In Guatemala, I learned the value of doing anything for your family, because they are family. In Zanzibar and different times throughout my journey, I learned about friendships and God. I learned that we all deserve friends that will truly be there for you, and care for you. I learned that God does his own thing, in his own time, regardless of my need.

Obviously, I learned a lot more, but those things are what help me in college. I am actually living and loving here in Norman, Oklahoma. I have true friends and I am so proud of who they are. I have talks with God that are not hostile, but beautiful. I have knowledge from my travels that help me in classes, and help me have something to share with a perfect stranger. I have everything I did not have my freshman year and I am so much happier in college with what I have now. Not what I have physically, but what I have in my heart.

So, if you are reading this, and you have been told it will not benefit you in college, think again. Everything I experienced during my gap year set me up so beautifully for college and the rest of my life. I am still learning things I did not realize during my gap year and I am still unraveling things of which I was unaware. It is a scary thing to commit to a gap year, but life is scary. So, might as well have an incredible story to share with the rest of the world, right?

Contact Information:
instagram: han.k.giffen
Facebook: Hannah Giffen
This is also the link to my other blog I keep active: https://aspirewords.wordpress.com

DID YOU KNOW?  A gap year improves academic performance and motivation in college.

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Great Gap Year Myth #7: “It’s Just a Glorified Vacation.”

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Meet Devon Hardington, Class of 2016, as she shares her thoughts on Myth #6: “It’s Just a Glorified Vacation.”

At the beginnings of gap year, I romanticized ideas in my head of the months awaiting me, dreaming of glamorous travel and fun adventures all the time, forgetting that life is still life in every place you go.  But, in the middle of our spring semester, I had a few days of rest in between our immersion experiences.  During that time,  I quickly realized this year would not be an easy one.  It was during this time that I realized travel isn’t about five star resorts or fun foods or short mission trips or weekend adventures but that full cultural immersion provides rich, authentic, rare, and challenging experiences that leave a permanent stain on your memory. I was again reminded that the vast majority of this year was not a vacation but that I didn’t want it to be one because vacation would never provide me with the challenges and genuine learning experiences I was after.

As gap years are becoming increasingly more popular it’s pretty easy to scroll through a few Instagram photos and think you know what a gap year is all about. And it looks pretty great – beautiful landscapes of exotic locations complete with mountaintop scenes and blissful faces. However, all that these photos are showing nothing but these mountaintop experiences. Hardly ever will you see or understand the journey that this person is actually going on and what daily life actually looks like without physically being there or experiencing it. Because of this, gap years more often than not look like nothing more than an extended mission trip or a glorified excuse to take a year off from school.

I cannot speak for all gap years here but for KIVU this is just so far from the truth. Of course, spending a year living in a number of new and exciting places comes with numerous mountaintop experiences, but the journey up to these moments is what the majority of the year is like. Everyday brings a new day of struggles with language barriers, cultural barriers, living situations, and internship frustrations. Through each day of these struggles however, you are diving deeper into the root of these struggles and are constantly pushed towards little victories that gradually turn into your yearlong journey of perseverance and growth. Everyone will experience this a little differently, but you will have people with you to inspire and encourage you along the way to keep growing into your own journey.

Of course, gap year will probably be one of the most impactful, exhilarating and adventurous years of your life.  But, day in and day out, you are learning, working and growing. It’s hard and it’s frustrating and it is not a vacation, but you are continually challenged in the most rewarding ways that lead to some of the highest highs as well as some of the lowest lows.

Devon Hardington, Class of 2016

Facebook: Devon Hardington

Instagram: devhardyy

Email: dvh235@nyu.edu

Great Gap Year Myth #6: “It is Not Safe.”

 

Great Gap Year Myths.008.jpegMeet Zac Musgrove, Class of 2015, as he tackles the Great Gap Year Myth #6: “It is Not Safe.”

The idea of a gap year inherently brings about the idea of, or perhaps the lack of, safety. Especially with a program like this one. Traveling literally all around the world, catching connecting flights, riding on the back of motorcycles, riding in the back of “buses”, or maybe more like vans, with boxes of supplies. Safety is something we as Americans really care about, whether it be national, local, or personal safety.  It’s right at the top of the list of needs for most people and that’s just fine; safety is nice, safety is comfortable.

There was never a time during my year where I ever feared for my safety or anyone else’s for that matter. That is not to say I was comfortable, I was certainly not comfortable, but that’s where God works best, in my opinion. I think a lot of people associate safety with normalcy and think that when their “normal” changes, they are unsafe. Gap year isn’t about being unsafe though, it’s about being uncomfortable and growing in that space, whether it be riding public transportation in a new city, or staying with a family you just met all on your own, or eating strange food you never imagined eating; everything is designed to reorient what normal is and how to operate in it.

There is one moment that stands out above all others when it comes to safety while on gap year.  We had just finished our time in Rwanda and were gearing up to head to Israel (which 9 months earlier was hurling bombs at the Gaza Strip and all of that fun stuff). We left Kigali with no trouble, landed in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, where we had a layover and waited to board our next flight to Tel Aviv. Around this time, Saudi Arabia and Yemen decided it would be a great time to come to a disagreement and lob some missiles at each other. We were never in any danger but the Red Sea was no longer passable thanks to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. So, we sat in the Addis Ababa airport for another 5 hours waiting to get permission to fly over Sudan. I want to reiterate that we were never in danger or anything but it was almost humorous because we had no WIFI, no way to tell our parents or leadership back at KIVU what was going on. We finally got in the air and landed in Cairo to refuel and finally many hours after we were supposed to get there, we landed in Tel Aviv. The funny thing was our group was more annoyed than anything because the Ethiopian airport staff wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us anything so we just knew we were tired and ready to move on to Tel Aviv!

I think what it boils down to is that safety is a relative concept.  Each person has to choose what is safe for them. For me, anything and everything on Gap Year was safe, or safe enough to try anyway.  I know some of you reading this may say, “Well, yeah, for you as the participant that’s easy to determine but what about the parents?” Well, I can’t speak for my parents so I won’t; however, they are sending my younger brother to the program next year, so take that as you will. Gap year is a decision that should not be taken lightly. It will rock your world!  It will make you take a double take on almost everything you thought you knew about yourself, how you work with people, how you love people.  And that is if nothing else uncomfortable, but when you’re making that decision don’t let the myth of “It’s not safe” stand in your way.

Contact me:

Email – Zacmusgrove16@gmail.com

Facebook – Zac Musgrove

Great Gap Year Myth #5: “My High School Does Not Support it.”

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Meet Madison Burke, Class of 2014, as she shares her perspective on Great Gap Year Myth #5:  “My High School Does Not Support it.”

Maybe you’re reading thinking “I shouldn’t take a gap year because my high school told me not to.” Well then! It’s myth busting time again which means we should probably start with some hard truth.

My high school DIDN’T support my choice to take a gap year.

Not only did they verbally tell me they thought I was making a mistake, on senior night for my slideshow page they put pictures of the school from which I deferred. Funny thing is, during gap year I changed my mind and went to a completely different school than the one they broadcasted for everyone to see my “accomplishments.”

Did I have days when I second guessed my choice to take a gap year?  Absolutely! But I kept coming back to fact that the Lord so clearly laid this path out for me.

The good news that still rings true is that God calls us to have gospel center courage to “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9).  So I stood strong in my decision even though I did not understand why the counselor told certain kids it was OK to not go to college, but told me I was making a mistake. I didn’t understand why the english teacher walked away when I asked her to display the KIVU GAP YEAR logo instead of UT Arlington under my name.

Blair has already busted the myth that was my high school’s main argument, “You won’t return to college.”

At this point you’re probably wondering if any good came out of this. Of course!

Many students who rolled their eyes at my decision were the ones who commented on pictures, responded to blog posts, and messaged me during gap year (still even now) asking how I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I constantly hear “I wish I would have done that” truthfully explaining they only went straight into college because it was the norm, or because of the pressure from society – not because they were prepared.

After the first semester of gap year, I returned home for Christmas to find many of my classmates moving home, transferring schools, and taking a semester off because they were burnt out or didn’t really have a direction they wanted to pursue anymore. I remember thinking, “Where would I be if I bought into this lie that I couldn’t take a gap year because my high school told me not too.  Would I be moving home? Would I transfer schools? Would I have friends?”

The first message I received during my gap year was from my counselor. It was an apology.  The second was from the english teacher I previously mentioned. Both of them were encouraging me.  Both were saying they were proud of me for sticking to my decision.

See the thing is, I wanted to be mad at my high school for putting my decision down and making me wonder if I should try the college thing out first even though I didn’t feel ready.

Instead, their messages made me realize that they just didn’t understand what I was choosing to do at the time. Their entire career is to build up and educate the next generation and to see them become successful. Educators spend far more hours shaping our lives than we will ever know, and they take their students success or failure personally. They were blinded to the success that taking a gap year can bring.

Choosing to take a gap year does not make you a failure. Choosing to take a gap year will not ruin your high school’s reputation. Choosing to take a gap year will prepare you for college far better than any classroom will.

Choosing to take a gap year– against what my high school said–was and still is the greatest decision I ever made.

Contact Information:

Facebook: Madison Abby Burke

Instagram: Madiburke

Email: madison.burke95@gmail.com