Returns, Possibilities, and Fourth-Graders: Gap Year Week 21

Last week, I came back to Singapore after three weeks in Sri Lanka. It was a short return, admittedly—I am now elsewhere and continuing what’s now a firmly ingrained bad habit of avoiding any timeliness when writing blog posts.

Short returns, though, will now be the norm, especially as I spend longer and longer periods overseas over the next year. This will culminate, of course, in college. I’ve been asked a lot recently whether being on a gap year has made me look forward less to college, or whether I wish I could extend this year even more, but in all honesty: college is a certainty, a fixed point in September of next year, and what’s the point in not looking forward to it, then? But the thing is—I have so many (probably too many) plans for the next nine months. There is little point in dwelling constantly on what will happen afterwards and in the process lose track of where I am now. (This blog is somewhat of a mitigation measure for any tracks I do lose.)

Of course, most people inevitably ask where I’m going to college within a few minutes of conversation, because the wider world defines people by institutions and judges those without them. And I’m glad I can answer that question: to know that college is a fixed point is a comfort. I’m not at that freelancing point where I can totally free myself from arbitrary societal benchmarks. Maybe I’ll reach there, though. Nine months is a long time.

And one week is a short time to return to what’s been home for the last decade. But landing in Singapore, I felt a frightening sense of constriction. In Sri Lanka, my mental map was full of blank spaces; I was learning a new culture, a new people every day there. But coming back to Singapore, the island felt mapped out minutely around me. I could recognize every building as we landed, and suddenly I was glad that my time living here is at an end, and fresh horizons broaden my future. There’s so much possibility in saying, “I’m new here.” This isn’t to say that I know everything there is to know about the country: I know there are places I haven’t been, people I should meet, expeditions not yet taken. But with a teenaged jadedness—perhaps the last few times I can temporally claim it—I think I’m ready to move out, for now.

I’m not done with Singapore, though. In my last few days in Sri Lanka, I purchased a domain name, my long-suffering friend/developer transferred over the code, and I’m happy to announce that RailWild.org is now live! This project—an interactive field guide to Singapore’s Rail Corridor based around a choice key—has been a steady underlying direction of my gap year. It’s not done, for sure, but this upgrade from a college-hosted domain to one we own does mean it’s now open for feedback and testing. The next few months are devoted to prototype tests. With hopeful positive response from grants, we can coordinate official launches near the beginning of next year.

I went back to school one day to test out RailWild at an after-school activity I used to help coordinate—the first of many classrooms it will be implemented in to come, with any luck. I learned two things from this experience: one, I am terrible at managing fourth- and fifth-graders. For some reason, the tried-and-true clap-and-repeat silencing technique seems to have expired with this new-fangled high-tech generation; without it, my attempts at a convincing authority figure expire, too. And two—there’s a reason I pursued RailWild in the first place. It’s fun: kids appear to genuinely enjoy it. There’s a sense of discovery in the room as they try different paths to identify the animals, like they’re explorers striking out new routes into a wilderness of biodiversity, and a tangible sense of achievement when they land on the right species. Oh, I didn’t know that before!

RailWild is now a project more than a year in the making, and it’s easy to feel tired with it. Get it over and done, move on to college. But even as Singapore seems to shrink around me, I want to remember the dizzying feeling of finding out new wildlife—new places—new possibilities—at every corner. I want to help people find that, too. This tiny island nation is one of the few places where you can get that feeling so readily—in a small woodpecker on a tree in the car park, with a butterfly resting on a flower by Orchard Road. I’m ready to move out, but not move on. No matter how jaded I feel, honestly, I’m too young for true exhaustion with any place, and just old enough to treasure my excitement at every novelty. From here on out, every week brings new adventure.

one week ago—

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