Looking Ahead: Goals for my Gap Year

The past month has been vital in identifying and solidifying my initial ideas into more concrete, tangible goals. Going into this month, I was admittedly a bit unsure with my plans going forward. I had reached out to the organizations I was hoping to work with, but I was still working on figuring out the logistics of my living situation and when I would be moving out. Much progress has been made, so I feel not just less worried, but actually excited now that things seem to be fledged out. As of now, the only thing that I’m still confused about is how and when I will receive the money to cover my living expenses. The only way I can afford to move up to Chicago is to live with family and pay rent (albeit reduced) and with financial assistance from FSU, but unless I’m working part time I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Once I get these questions answered, I feel my anxieties will be diminished and I will be ready to dive in head first into this year.

At the end of this month, my plan is to relocate from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, to Chicago, IL. I visited the apartment that I will be moving into, and besides a bit of deep cleaning, it is move-in ready. So far, I feel myself comparing what I think this year is going to be like to what a typical recent high school graduate would be doing at this time. They would be collecting items to put in their dorms, getting to know their roommates, and signing up for classes. Growing up with the expectation to immediately launch into college means I have no road map. The advice of my peers, friends, and family has a limited applicability to my current situation. Sometimes I ponder (not from a place of regret, but rather curiosity) what the other path I could’ve taken would’ve looked like. The one not taken seemed secure and surefire. Conversely, mine feels unique and unexplored. I believe that keeping the following goals in mind will facilitate my success.

Goal One: Volunteering to teach English as a means of community development through language learning.

If you’ve gotten this far into this blog, you probably know how to read. And probably pretty well, too, if you’re a student at FSU (go Noles!). Chances are, you’ve taken it for granted, like I have. I had exceptional K-12 education. I graduated from a public school system whose high schools’ test scores consistently ranked in the top percent, received multiple Blue Ribbon Awards, and was located in a well-funded county. Now, I want you to imagine if you looked at a page full of text and couldn’t interpret a single word, as if it was written in a foreign language. There are some families who cannot prioritize they children’s education because their first obligation is keeping food on the table and a roof overhead, so the kids have limited participation in school, or may drop out completely. Unsurprisingly, the victims of this system are more often minorities. That means that although they may have lived in the United States their whole life, they have limited or no capability to read English, on top of the disenfranchisement they already experience. I want to help people learn essential reading skills they didn’t have the opportunity to pocket earlier in life. As wordy as it is, my first goal is pretty simple. I will be teaching reading skills to adults and ESL students at an organization called Literacy Chicago. I wanted to teach English because I want to share skills I formerly thought were intrinsic, but were only made possible by parents, teachers, and administrators who cared about their students’ success. At Literacy Chicago, I will be a tutor and a teacher for adult literacy, digital literacy, and English as a second language classes. The goal of the English classes are to bring students up to a sixth-grade reading level so they are able to do things like pay bills, navigate, or communicate better with family members. The students set their own goals based on what they feel they need to learn to be more successful in their own lives, and lesson plans are built around that. Once students reach this level, they can decide to pursue a GED, which Literacy Chicago also provides a training course for. For digital literacy, students are taught to navigate their devices, search the internet, write emails, read the news, use social media, and type in this ever-changing, technologically-centered world. This class gives students crucial dexterity they need to land jobs or use the increasingly complex technology we are coming to rely on so heavily. The skills these programs teach build the foundational blocks of higher-functioning members of society. Suddenly, they can vote, write their congressional representative, and become eligible for a broader scope of jobs which can lead to economic mobility. Ultimately, the ability to read is a gift that unfortunately not everyone was lucky enough to receive. Since I was, I want to share this gift with as many people as I can. Education should facilitate the empowerment of the oppressed and give words to those that the system has silenced. Literacy Chicago does that and that is why I chose to volunteer with them.

Goal Two: Language acquisition to break down barriers between cultures as a means of communication enrichment.

The language road goes both ways. While it is important to educate others, it is also pertinent we educate ourselves. Student or not, we should all be learning as much as we can to make ourselves better, more empathetic people. I kept this in mind when creating my second goal. Growing up in a family where Russian is the primary language, in a diverse community, and taking Spanish class, I have been surrounded by a wide array of languages, and there for cultures my entire life. During my gap year, I want to improve my Russian, Spanish and Italian speaking, reading and writing skills. Although Russian was technically my first language, as soon as I started preschool my parents spoke to me primarily in English so I could learn to read as fast as possible. As a result, my speaking skills are cringe-worthy, with improper pronunciation and lackluster grammar. My reading and writing skills are similarly dismal. Although I can curse my parents until the end of time for not teaching me both languages at the same, there’s nothing I can do about it but learn it myself. I want to do so because I want to be able to communicate better with the older members of my family. I feel a disconnect with them sometimes because I don’t fully understand what they say, or the specific nuance of a story or joke simply cannot be translated into the other language. I enjoy our Ukrainan/Jewish “cultural” foods like Голубцы (pronounced “galuptsi”; cabbage rolls stuffed with turkey or chicken) and борщ (pronounced “borscht”; red beet vegetable soup), and our cultural traditions like throwing an absolute rager of a New Year’s Party (sans Covid). But alas, these things feel incomplete without the language to tie it together. To achieve my goal of conversational fluency and a at least a middle school reading level, I will be using either Rosetta Stone or Duolingo to add new words to my vocabulary, use their reading and writing tools to improve my grammar, and speaking on the phone with relatives completely in Russian.

On top of getting better at Russian, I will also be improving my Spanish skills. Having learned Spanish through middle and high school, I can read paragraphs and maintain a conversation with minimal errors with a native speaker, but there is still room for improvement. I wish to do so because I will be living in Valencia, Spain for my freshman year through the Seminole Pathways Program. Although all the classes are taught in English, I want to be fully immersed (making friends, interacting with locals, understanding current events, etc) and distance myself as much as possible from the standard image of what an American looks like when they travel abroad. Additionally, the United States has the largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, with forty-one million people who speak it. This means that in order to connect with more of my fellow citizens, Spanish is a great language to know. My goal before the end of the year is to make my American accent more subtle (to a point where it is hardly noticeable), expand my vocabulary to that of a high school student (including slang), and be able to have real socratic discussions. I will achieve this goal by reading three articles per week in a Spanish newspaper regarding current events (making sure I completely understand the entirety of it, and do enough research of my own on the topic to be able to form and convey a defensible and educated opinion). In addition, I will maintain my friendship with a Spanish exchange student who went to my high school with phone calls to increase conversational fluency. Lastly, In order to familiarize myself with culturally relevant topics, I will scroll through the trending page on Twitter with my location set to Spain and read about what interests me. I strongly believe that these methods combined will help me achieve moderate fluency before Spain so that while I’m there I can approach real fluency. Finally, the last language I need to learn is Italian. Unlike it’s previous counterparts, I do not know a lick of Italian besides “Ciao”! I want to learn Italian because I will be living there next summer as a student in the Seminole Pathways Program. Fluency is unrealistic, as I only have about seven months to learn, so I hope to learn enough to hold a basic conversation, navigate, and read simple text. I will be using Duolingo or Rosetta Stone to achieve this. Maybe while I am in Europe I will be able to challenge the stereotype that Americans are inconsiderate, uncultured and rude.

Goal Three: Experience and succeed at solo living and self-management.

Unlike ninety percent of my high school peers, I did not choose to go to college immediately after high school. This means that I am faced with a lot more real-life obstacles before they will be. While in Chicago, I will be living alone. I will be in fully charge of my own food, transportation, bills, and living space maintenance. With FSU’s funding I have monetary assistance, but I am still in charge of the facilitation of these responsibilities. Over the course of the coming months, the action of sustaining myself, as well as the mistakes I am bound to make along the way, will teach me to be independent and responsible.

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