Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chapter 2 - Our Final Week of Gap 2015

The Gapsters finished out their final week in Saint Lucia with flare! Being no strangers to the wide array of activities the Gap Experience covers, they navigated flawlessly between service learning projects, interpersonal dynamics, academic rigor, and adrenaline rushes.
Everyone Together at Dunnottar

Monday proved to be the most bittersweet of days in the Gap Experience. After two weeks of working with Dunnottar School, the Gap students spent their last day with all of the energetic students and staff. They were enlisted to help out with the school marathon—a two-mile run through the hilly streets of Castries.  Spirits and physical stamina were high for everyone involved. Abby and Mojo led the group in some warm-up stretches, and then it was time for glory! The race was a success! Some of the Gapsters cheered on the runners from various checkpoints along the route, while others buddied-up and ran with the Dunnottar students (some even ran hand in hand). You could feel the energy, excitement, and pride as each student--drenched in sweat and wearing a huge smile--crossed the finish line.  Soon after the last runner made it in, the Gapsters had to say their goodbyes—by far the toughest part of the day. The level of compassion that the Gap students extended to the students and staff at Dunnottar over the two weeks they spent at the school, working wiht the kids, was readily returned. It was a joyous occasion to see such a successful exchange betwee the 'giver' and the 'receiver'-- where both parties gain so much from each other! Certainly gives one hope for humanity again. 
Abby Leading Some Stretches
Matt and Chris Running Hand-in-Hand 
And They're Off!

Sam and Shakeem Saying Good-bye

On Tuesday, classroom and history collided. As part of their course, the Gapsters read the book, Neg Maron: Freedom Fighters by Micheal Aubertin. This historical fiction novel tells the story of escaped slaves trying to liberate Saint Lucia of military control. Where better to hold a class discussion of the book than an old military base overlooking the Caribbean Sea and the northern island neighbor, Martinique? Pigeon Island is a National Landmark in Saint Lucia. Although a causeway was constructed in 1972 connecting the island to the mainland, for many years this “island” was a key military base—switching control between the British and French numerous times.  As the Gap students discussed the various social and political themes of the book, they were sitting in the very same place  where the novel took place—an intriguing and powerful experience for many.
Class at One of the Military
Ruins at Pigeon Island. 

In addition to their academic growth, the Gap students grew interpersonally, as they honed their capacity to communicate effectively with one another. this was displayed during an activity called Zen Chair.  The students’ first exposure to Zen Chair occured months before during their Voyager Outward Bound experience. This activity is one that embraces constructive feedback, trust development, and mutual respect for each member of the team. Each student is asked to prepare a list of personal strengths and one growing edge for each of his or her peers. When a student is ready, they quiet themself and listen to all of the feedback one's peers have prepared to share with them—personal strengths and characteristics, and those areas in which there is room for growth. When done properly, the Zen Chair serves as a safe, constructive, and humble character-building exercise. The Gapsters participated in Zen Chair beautifully. The respect, compassion, and commitment they have for one another was exemplified during this activity. Who better to suggest how you can be your 'best self' than people with whom you have lived with for 3.5 months? People who have seen you at your best and your worst? People who care for your well-being and self-development? This activity served as a wonderful way to highlight how much each student has grown during the Gap Experience and encourages them to continue the growth once they return home.

As the week came to a close, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center became eerily quiet. Where was the laughter? Where was all the talk about the students’ favorite video game, Battle Cats? Well, truth be told, the Gaspters buckled down and hit the books hard. They were preparing for their final exam in the Cultural Imperialism & Hegemony in the Caribbean course—the last academic component of the Gap Experience 2015. They formed study groups; some studied as individuals—taking much needed ice cream and coffee breaks in between. Their focused efforts paid off: as they left the exam room, the students sighed relief, smiled, and said, “That wasn’t so bad. I think I did well.” …And they did do well as substantiated by Dr. Laura.

Gapsters Celebrating the End of Their First College Semester
To celebrate the end of the Gap Experience, the students traveled to the opposite side of the island, arrived in the rainforest, and geared up to do some zip lining! Their adrenaline got pumping as they flew down the longest and fastest zip line in Saint Lucia—800 feet of cable! Wahoo! The views of the forest canopy were breathtaking, and looking down to view the Dennery River was exhilarating.  Everyone had a blast and agreed that, “College is the best!”
Jake, Matt, Christian, Jack,
and Abby Ready for Adventure!
Abby, Kate, Nicole, Autumn, Josie,
and Morgan Excited for Zip Lining
Kate Coming Onto the Platform.

Leaving the island of Saint Lucia not only marked the end of another experience within the Gap Experience Program, but also the conclusion of the travel associated with the Gap Cohort 2015!  As this blog post is being written and published, all sixteen of the Gapsters have reunited with their families and are enjoying some much needed time back home. This, the final blog post for the Gap Experience 2015, is the closing of one chapter and the start of another—Chapter 2. Who knows what Chapter 2 will have in store? The only guarantees are that the path each one chooses will be different for each of the Gapsters. Yet, each of this year's Gap cohort most definitely has the confidence, courage, and mutual support to forge whichever path they choose.
Award Ceremony Presented By Abby, Kate, Autumn, and Josie on 
Our Last Night in St. Lucia

Boom, Clap. Go Gap!

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