It was the last day of the year, December 31st, 2006, when I boarded a bus in south Texas bound for southern Mexico. That was the first day of a year of incredible adventures all over the world. I saw Mayan Ruins in Guatemala, ate homemade ceviche in Peru, saw exotic game on safari in South Africa, snorkled barrier reefs in Mozambique, toured Buddhist Temples in Thailand and hiked the Great Wall of China. But beyond the food, the historic sites, the animals, the and the amazing cultures, when I'll remember most are the people I met along the way.
Maria, an elderly woman in Guatemala who was cutting a gross gooey black fruit that was her family's entire meal for the day (and by "family" I mean 11 children and twice as many grandchildren). She showed me a deeper faith in God than anyone I've ever met.
Jaco, a South African missionary in Mozambique spending every cent of his family's donated earnings to feed kids outside of rural Beira.
Arun and Paeng, a couple living in western Thailand raising goats as a form of micro-loan enterprising to help revive a dying village outside of Kanchanaburi.
Or Gwen, a young woman studying Mandarin and befriending university students in central China.
Their stories were... exotic, larger than life. They were living an adventure but one that was making a difference in people's lives. Some were saving kids from the clutches of human traffickers, some were supporting education, some were using their entrepreneurial skills to launch outrageously creative social enterprises.
What it meant for me was that my life couldn't be ordinary anymore. "Average" wasn't going to cut it for me. My life took a turn that year, one that has lasted me a long time.
Today I live and work taking people to see all the things I've had the chance to experience and so many more. I get to tell people about the realities of the world and get to support people who are making changes to the world around us.
I can't imagine my life without my Gap Year. Everyone deserves this opportunity and I'm going to make sure they get it.