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Be You: Cultivating Self-Love on My Gap Year

The last week in Guatemala we had a reflection with just our group. At the end everyone said what they like and appreciate about each of us. Almost everyone said that I am always happy and always in a good mood. A lot of people said this during this trip and it always makes me really happy. I am in general a really happy and positive person but before this gap year I had bad days and wasn't always in a good mood. The year before this gap year I didn't exactly know if I wanted to take a gap year or not because I was scared if I could handle it. After I applied and got accepted I had concerns about whether I would like it or not, if I would get really homesick, if the group was going to like me or if I would be able to handle the challenges. But then one day I was so excited to go on this trip and I promised myself: Jana, these are 9 months of your entire life.. this is such a short time and it's a gift to have this time for personal growth, so I will enjoy every single day of it!

So when some days are harder than others on this trip, I always remember saying this to mysefl, and it reassures me everytime that I am in the right place. On this trip I've really started to appreciate life more, and I think that's the main reason why I'm so happy. You can be in the same place two times but experience something completely different because maybe you didn't appreciate it as much the first time. over the last severn months I've learned to look around and to notice how beautiful the earth is, how amazing people are, how beautiful friendships are and how important it is to be the best version of yourself. Before this trip I focused most of my time on other people, trying to be like them, and I would ask myself why I'm not the way other people are. Now I've learned to love myself. It's not bad to look at other people but more as an inspiration to be a better version of yourself rather than being upset that you're not like them. Everyone is unique, everyone is different and that's what makes life livable. You should never want to change yourself because how boring would it be if there were two Ann's or two Kelly's or two Caroline's? I don't talk as much as Kelly, I don't love dogs as much as Caroline, I don't know as many facts as Ann, I'm not as funny as Jeremy, and I'm not as crazy and open as Sam, but I am lot of other things and that's why I'm here on earth. I'm Jana, and I am awesome just the way I am.

A main reason why I came on this trip was because I wanted to be more open to people I don't know yet. I thought that I could try to be a new person on this trip. I'll be with completely new people who don't know me, not with my usual people back home who already have a picture in their heads of who I am. But as soon as I met the WorldStamp Gap Year group in India I realized that I am still the same Jana as at home: close to strangers and scared to talk about my feelings and thoughts. It was a real process for me to open up more, and I had to really focus on it. This trip was and still is the perfect challenge for me when it comes to learning to be more open. We are always thrown into situations where we meet new people. First getting to know the WorldStamp cohort, then meeting volunteers from all over the world almost every week in the guesthouse in Jaipur, the Young Dreamers in India, Guatemala and Costa Rica, our host families in Guatemala and Costa Rica, as well as people who you meet in your daily routine in each country. In the beginning I was closed and watched from the outside how other people from my group first connected with people, and I had this feeling that I wasn't an interesting person to get to know. After a few months in India I felt more confident and wasn't that afraid of meeting new people anymore. Sometimes I had to force myself to talk to new people, and I wasn't always excited to do it. By the time we arrived in Guatemala I wasn't afraid anymore, and I felt like people actually wanted to talk to me because I really am interesting. Such a great feeling! I also think it's because I've already experienced so much, and I see the world through different eyes now.

Here in Costa Rica I am even excited when someone says that a volunteer group from the US or Canada or somewhere else is coming. I am excited to get to know them, and excited to tell them who I am and what I've experienced on this Gap Year. I think now I am better at connecting to people sooner, nd not only on small-talk, but also on a deeper level. I like to ask important questions like 'What's your purpose on this trip?' or 'What is your dream in life?' rather than just asking, 'Where are you from?' or 'How long are you here?'. I feel like I am more interested in other people and want to know everything about them because I can learn so much from everyone.

When it comes to meeting new people it's also very important to be aware of how you communicate with people. When I would listen to people I would think about what I want to say next and not even listen to the person who is speaking to me. It is really important to actually listen to the person speaking to you, without simultaneously thinking about your own thoughts and without interrupting them. What I've also learned is to really remember the names of the people you meet. It's not a bad thing to ask two times about their names because everyone forgets names here and there, but when you call someone by his or her actual name it shows them that you remembered and appreciate them and they (directly) feel closer to you.

Of course, I am still not perfect in communication, but I am open and eager to learn everyday a little bit more. I am inspired by people who naturally connect to strangers effortlessly. I like this quote, "Whatever it is that you admire about other people is something that is nascent in yourself, but that you have not yet brought into being. Once you have brought this characteristic forth in yourself, you will admire something different in others, in order to continue the circle of growth into inner freedom and happiness. Knowing what you admire in others is a wonderful mirror into your deepest, as yet unborn, self." Having this in my mind I will always be inspired by other people, and I will do my best to grow every day into my deepest, yet unborn, self.

Being here in Costa Rica is the perfect environment to think about everything I've just mentioned. Not having any internet and being surrounded by the most beautiful mountains and rivers makes you think about who you really are and why you are here on earth. I love having so much free time here. I can decide if I want to mediate, do yoga, go to the soccer field and play soccer or just read or journal. I think a lot of people wish they could be here not having anything to do (work). Who knows if I will ever have the opportunity again to be at a peaceful place like this, so I will enjoy these last 2 months more than anything else. Pura vida!