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Discovering a New Concept of “Time” During My Gap Year

March 23, 2017

Time is a peculiar concept. If it's a long wait at a red light at the intersection in front of your school that starts in two minutes, thirty seconds feel like eight hours. If it's a great night's sleep, one where your eyes close and the next thing you know it's morning, eight hours feel like thirty seconds. Our culture is obsessed with time. This is a blatant obsession, like an avid NFL fan always talking about the next game or a band nerd that fails to participate in a conversation without mentioning that one time at band camp. We let the concept of time absolutely consume our lives. We base jobs on how much time we'll spend working, then we calculate how much that time is worth. When a person is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the subtitle to the diagnosis is always how much time that person is estimated to have left. Often times old couples advertise the years they've spent together, sometimes before they even introduce themselves. What's something in common between anyone younger than seven and older than seventy? The first thing they tell you is their age.

I don't think this is a bad thing. Time would run our lives whether we noticed it or not, so at least we as a society have become aware. Now, the next step for us is to make sure we're making the most of our time. Being on WorldStamp Gap Year has helped me take advantage of time. It's given me time to think about the future and what I can do with it, and specifically it's showed me how much time I've been wasting.

I'll describe the scene I'm living in first:

I'm in a town of two hundred people and the nearest hospital is at least two hours away. My closest available WiFi is at a restaurant that involves a trek down (and therefore up) a road that compares to the steepness of Mount Everest (that very well might be an exaggeration). I'm lucky to get sputtering cell phone reception; reception that's juuuust enough to send and receive text messages every once in a while, but not enough to hold lasting conversations unless the person I'm talking to is willing to get an answer to "what's up?" twenty four hours later.

So, here's a list of everything I'm NOT doing with my time on this Gap Year that I probably would be doing if I were in the United States in college right now:

1. I'm not watching seasons of Netflix.
2. I'm not texting or Facebooking friends into the night.
3. I'm not keeping up with the news, US or Costa Rican.
4. I'm not watching March Madness (this one hurts, especially because my future school is doing well. But by the time this blog is posted they would have played again and might have lost so that would be awkward. Go Heels!).
5. I'm not spending every waking second around people.
6. I'm not going to fast food restaurants or stores.
7. I'm not reading any books that I've been assigned to read.
8. When I have a question that I don't know the answer to, I'm not looking up that question on Google.

My day starts at 5:55am...5:55 in the morning! To you crazy people early birds, that's nothing. As a habitual night owl, this has been odd. But hey, Costa Rica has changed me in lots of ways. Breakfast isn't until 7am, so I normally have about an hour all to myself to chill. Somedays these sixty minutes include me hiding under my covers, snoozing my alarm every ten minutes until breakfast. However, most days I do a morning devotion, write a bit, and read. It's amazing how much more time sixty minutes is when my phone isn't involved.

In the US, on the rare occasion that I was up and actually had time in the morning for myself (ask my mom or my first period teacher senior year how often that was), it was spent checking social media and replying to any texts. And if we're being honest, that was true with India and Guatemala too. Technology addiction is real, people.

After breakfast, I venture to our volunteer site with my WorldStamp group. Unlike the eventful ride to our service site in India I wrote about before, or the topsy-turvy and bumpy trek to our school in Guatemala, this commute is relaxing; as relaxing as a cool morning walk up to the side of a mountain can be. From 8am to 12pm, we work. Sometimes those four hours feel like forty when we're shoveling gravel into the back of a pickup to build a bio-factory, and sometimes they seem like forty minutes when we build a miniature Machu Picchu out of rocks on the side of the mountain. We go home, eat lunch, and some days we have the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. This is where this whole time thing has become incredibly important to me.

I've never had this much time to myself in my life, and I know I probably won't have it ever again. To some, this may be a curse (especially without WiFi or restaurants or more than six other people that are in the same boat as you), but to me it's glorious. I've read an average of four books a week, I've had time to actually sit down and plan my future, I've written every day, and I work out (sometimes) and explore. I know these next two months will be the last two months of this much free time I'll ever have unless I'm sentenced to prison (unlikely) or make a BUNCH of money between now and when I die so I can quit everything and come back here (even more unlikely). So, I've learned to make the most of this time.

Now I have to translate this life back to my normal crazy life at home. In two months I'll be home and working two jobs, hopefully working fifty to sixty hours a week between the two. Once I start college, I'll be taking somewhere between twelve and eighteen hours of classes, I'll be in marching band, will probably have a part time job, and hopefully I'll have a social life. I won't have as much time as I have here, but I can still be just as intentional. I've realized through these nine months that I don't need my Netflix and TV. I don't need to check Snapchat and Instagram every ten minutes. It's okay if I don't know the latest drama about Kanye West, and I don't need to know what my best friend is doing every waking second.

If I get some type of concussion between now and the end of this Gap Year and I forget absolutely everything I've learned so far except one thing, I hope that the one thing I remember is that life is a lot cooler when you're experiencing it firsthand, and extraordinary things happen when you realize time is precious.