Socially Distant, Yet Full of Joy

Posted on the 21st July 2020

Julius, a Lattitude volunteer from Germany, wrote to us a very thoughtful reflection on his gap year in Duncan, BC – the beautiful “City of Totems” situated on Vancouver Island on the West Coast of Canada. His gap year began almost a year ago but took an unexpected turn while he was on a spring break trip with the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Julius chose to return to Canada from his trip, a home away from home, where he first self-isolated and then continued his gap year experience. As a result of his choice to stay, he has a unique and inspiring story, and we hope you enjoy reading along! Thank you to Julius for sharing your story with us and to our caring partners at Queen Margaret’s School for providing a wonderful environment for personal growth for Lattitude volunteers.

I started my placement as a School Assistant at Queen Margaret’s School in Duncan, BC at the end of August 2019, right before the new school year started. I helped in classroom lessons, especially in Physical Education (PE), and in the residence program. In addition, I went on school trips like sport events and outdoor camps.

I was on my spring break Hawaii trip when the COVID-19 situation unfolded. I had to leave my trip early so that I could re-enter Canada. It was a close call, but I made it back. Because I had been travelling, I went into two weeks of self-isolation in my school where I normally lived too.

After spring break, the school did not re-open. When I had finished my self-isolation, I found new ways to keep busy. I helped the school maintenance team through April and May. In addition, I helped in some remote learning programs. But working with fences is not the same as working with students. It was different but I was happy to work again and find a way support the school in some way. After isolating for two weeks, I couldn’t sit longer in my room; I wanted to give something back. In addition, I could be distracted from what was happening in the world at that time and I got some new maintenance work experiences.

Fortunately, the school reopened partially for the last 4 weeks of school in June. It was a hybrid model, which meant the students had lessons in groups on campus every other day and online. As a staff member, I was lucky that I had students there to work with every day. For this reason, I finished my work for the maintenance team and focused again on the students.

When school came back it was quite different. There was a big reopening-plan, we had to keep our physical distance and, especially in PE, we had to clean all the equipment. This was a lot of work but it was worth it! It was amazing to come in (distanced) contact with a lot of staff and students again. To see the students running around again and to be a part of giving them some normal life back was one of the best moments of my whole gap year. Though the last weeks of the school year were socially distanced, they were full of joy and a big gift for everyone in the community. I appreciated every school day more than ever before.

My two weeks of self-isolation were very impactful on my overall gap year. Coming back to Canada from my spring break trip to Hawaii was done in a big rush and it was quite stressful. After getting through my run on adrenaline, I realized that this sitting in self-isolation could be the end of my gap year if I chose to. But it gave me time to reflect and I felt sad to think about leaving without any goodbye or closure of my year. I already heard stories from gappers, close and far from me, how they had to or wanted to leave. They all were so sad and I didn’t want to feel the same pain. I compared the health situation in Germany and the rest of Europe to where I was on Vancouver Island and realized I was in a good place to stay. After eight months in this place it had become home for me so I felt really safe here.

I have had lots of contact with and support from both the school and Lattitude through it all. They were both in touch with me while I was in Hawaii on what was happening and talked me through what I would have to do.

For the named reasons above, I talked with the school and Lattitude about my stay in Canada. After the school made the decision to keep running the residence with a small group of 20 students, they were so generous to keep me too.

Lattitude was always with me. Lattitude supported me from the beginning of my thoughts around staying in Canada, emphasizing if I wanted to stay I would be supported in that decision.  This gave me a lot of security in such insecure times.

Of course, the connections back to Germany with my family and friends were also really important. They were interested in what was happening but the most of them also understood me pretty fast and supported me then with my staying decision.

My credo to get me through was: “I can’t leave like this”. I focused on my one goal, sometimes maybe too hard, but in the end, it worked out. I got all the energy from that. In addition, I always had my placement, Lattitude, and my family and friends from Germany backing me with big support. Of course we were and are in fast changing times but my placement and environment I lived in were my rock which gave me so much security to go through this time.

In the end the biggest gift was and is my stay here in Canada. Of course there were highs and lows. It was not easy to be so far away from my German home when a pandemic is going on and with the school I was volunteering at closed for some time. BUT there were always options to keep my spirits up.

Because of all these stories I’ve gone through here this place feels so strong and home for me now. That’s why I might stay here another year and there are thoughts beyond.

My advice to those considering going on a gap year is this – it’s not easy to leave home, for sure, but just do it!  It’s worth it. The beginning can be difficult, maybe also the first months. But then you find yourself making another home away from home. Life is there to explore. You can sit your whole life at home if you choose, but taking this one year out of your whole life to do something different can change so much for you.

We have so many more options than going to university/job directly. We have the luck of these options, so take advantage, especially if you can have such an incredible organization like Lattitude behind you.

Let nobody stop you with what makes you happy. Don’t plan too much, try to live in the moment. And, most importantly, enjoy and appreciate every moment with the people you meet along the way.

Learn More About Our Canada Programme

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