Life is a Journey, Not a Destination

Charlene Lee, a volunteer who recently spent her Gap Year at a medical placement in Japan, was the winner of our My Lattitude Writing Competition. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Charlene. And congratulations! In her essay, she answers the question: How has this experience added to your post-secondary experience? If you did not do a Gap Year, what would be different about you?


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This Gap Year really gave me a chance to recuperate, and ponder the possibilities of my future. It is a popular quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” While I kept on reminding and motivating myself to experience the most I could during my undergraduate years, after years of living in Vancouver and 5 years working on my undergraduate degree, I felt jaded. I was going to school because I got into UBC and was finishing my degree because I was almost done. I was at the point in my life where I was starting to doubt my decisions on my career. I knew I needed a break.

This Gap Year program in Japan was a complete change of pace. A different language, culture, customs and norms. Every experience was NEW. Even the bike locks were new and exciting! I had asked to be placed at a more rural placement, and I would never regret my decision. Every alley and road was a new scene and adventure. I rode my bicycle between rice fields, up mountains to different cemeteries, into alleyways meant for pedestrians, and even at night where the only light source was the super weak lamps powered by the front wheel of the bike as I pedaled. There wasn’t a destination planned, only the general direction of north, south, east, or west. The fact of these weekend local adventures not being planned was exhilarating.

Of course, my experience at the hospital placement was on par with my weekend excursions. Every new menial task I learnt and did to their standard was an achievement, especially with the language barrier. As a volunteer, I understood that our position was not a necessary role in the hospital for it to function. I wasn’t a nurse, a doctor, a janitor, or a groundskeeper. Yet, I was someone who still represented the hospital for 6 months. For some reason, this changed my mental view of this experience. I was in charge of how much experience I get out of the six months. How much communication I had with other workers, patients, and students was my responsibility. Having the courage to chat even through a completely new language opened up different opportunities. I was able to sit in forums with a lecturer from the US, join the hospital band, and experience some traditional aspects of Japan, such as learning calligraphy and tea ceremony.

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Looking back, I would definitely say my mental view of life changed. This six month pause wasn’t just a vacation. I was not there to be a tourist and sightsee. I was there to immerse myself in a different life, to experience something different, something that I could take back with me at the end of the placement. For me, this experience renewed my interest in learning and in enjoying the scenery around Vancouver. Although I don’t believe there was a huge confirmation or a change in my career choices, I did feel more confident. Had I not gone the Gap Year program, I would probably be not as confident and still be jaded or doubtful of the choices I made.

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