Hi, my name is Mariajose Ladera, but most people call me MJ. It’s shorter and easier to pronounce and remember. Also, I live in Atlanta Georgia. Something that defines me would be my family. They have taught me: to be adventurous and to appreciate the little things in life; to be patient and ask questions; to be independent and myself; and to be caring and thoughtful. I have learned all of this because each individual family member in my family displays either one or a few of these things that I have learned. If it weren’t for their support, I may not have taken a gap year.
Some expectations that I have for myself this gap year are to learn Portuguese, learn more about myself, and become more independent. I was also expecting to travel more and learn more about the many different lifestyles around the world; however, due to Covid-19, I will have to spend the first half of my gap year in the U.S. So instead of focusing on the many cultures and their daily life, I will be focusing more on the lifestyles of those who have been displaced and their day to day activities. My focus may seem limited, but it is actually much broader. I can not only focus on the homeless, but also animals, material things, and the elderly.
I plan on beginning my gap year at the end of August by volunteering at a foodbank. I hope to be able to help at more places such as a meals on wheels type of organization for the elderly, an animal shelter, and habitat for humanity. I will volunteer with these organizations until the end of year. Hopefully by next year, I can travel international and maybe volunteer in some countries. The first couple of weeks of September I plan on visiting my cousin in Kansas, while still continuing volunteer work. It works out perfectly because while she is at school I will be helping out at an organization nearby.
My plan for the second half of the semester is not fully set in stone, but there is a good idea of what I plan on doing. Pretty much starting the new year, I plan on traveling to the Bahamas to help build in construction through an organization called All Hands and Hearts. It is an amazing organization that helps countries that have gone through major catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires. They are located in places such as Peru, Nepal, and Australia. It seems like a great organization for me to learn about the lives of the people from the Bahamas and help build schools and homes for those who have been displaced. After the Bahamas, I hope to travel to Arequipa, Peru and stay with some family there. In Peru, stray animals are very common. So during my stay there, I plan on volunteering at an animal shelter for a few weeks. From Peru, I leave for the U.S, where I will be changing out my warm-climate clothing for more colder temperatures. My plan is to hopefully be able to travel to Portugal and stay there until the end of May. As mentioned before, I would like to learn Portuguese, which is what I would do there for about 4 months. It may seem like a lot of time, but the best way to learn a language is by fully immersing oneself in the language’s culture.
There are quite a few things that I would like to accomplish during my gap year, and some of those things may happen later than expected. It will be an interesting year for not only me but for everyone. But I know that I will be ready for whatever comes my way, whether it be in the U.S or in another country.