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After experiencing a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Ecuador’s grounds, Redwood alumnus Shaya Barry left Ecuador with the desire to return and help those in need.
As one of the Redwood students on the service trip to Ecuador who experienced the damaging effects of the earthquake on the morning of April 16, 2016, Shaya felt she had to assist citizens of the country.
Motivated by her love for the Spanish language and her goal of building new relationships with others around the world and helping rebuild the country of Ecuador, Shaya decided to take a gap year before attending UC Berkeley.
“I love speaking with people who don’t know English very well or just speaking with someone who I wouldn’t normally be able to communicate with. I love the language of Spanish in general, I think it’s such a pretty language,” Shaya said.
Obtaining permission to embark on the year abroad was not easy, according to her mother Leslie Barry. In order to be considered for the opportunity, Shaya had to apply two weeks before beginning her freshman year at UC Berkeley. She was among five other students who were granted permission to travel, despite the fact that UC Berkeley does not regularly offer gap years.
Shaya then traveled to Peru, Ecuador and Spain, where she was able to explore each individual country while assisting those living there.
In Peru, not only did Shaya spend time traversing through the grounds of Machu Picchu, but she was also able to spend two weeks assisting all kinds of animals that were rescued from different parts across the Amazon through the Puyo Animal Rescue Center. Each day she would wake up at 8 a.m. and tend to the animal’s’ needs.
Next she returned to Ecuador, after having attended a service trip there her senior year at Redwood. This time, she lived with a host family while also leading classes where she taught english to the locals. During the trip, Shaya developed a sickness called Dengue fever which prohibited her from finishing the rest of her trip in Ecuador as she was admitted to a hospital for most of the time.
At her last destination, Barcelona, Shaya attended Spanish classes at a local university while also playing soccer for a semi-pro team.
The soccer team she played for was mainly composed of other girls from Barcelona. Unlike her other experiences that were mainly based on communication, this one was unique as it allowed her to bond with others through playing the sport.
“It was awesome because you are connecting with people and don’t even need to speak the language,” Shaya said.
Although Shaya experienced some difficulties in terms of health, she returned with fresh outlooks on new cultures and people.
“Even people with different backgrounds can live completely different lives, yet you are super similar to them,” Shaya said.
According to Leslie, Shaya has changed in many positive ways after returning from her trips and she holds a new outlook on life.
“She made so many different kinds of friends and was opened up to so many different perspectives, especially coming from Marin, which is a very liberal place,” Leslie said.
Not only is a gap year a great way to explore countries and their culture worldwide, but it also prepares students for college in a different way than simply moving straight from high school.
“In so many ways it’s more complex than going to college, but it allows you to go to college with a whole new great perspective,” Leslie said.
Redwood Spanish teacher Todd Van Peursem leads most of the global student service trips and he believes that gap years can be extremely beneficial to the growth of a student’s abilities beyond high school, as it is difficult to capture everything about a culture in a class period.
“You learn by living, loving, learning. You learn by working, sharing and interacting socially. So how you create that sort of immersion environment in a classroom is quite challenging,” Van Peursem said.
Van Peursem feels that by becoming involved in the community not just locally, but globally, can be essential, especially before beginning college. He believes that while learning new languages, it is important to share cultural experiences along the way.
“As you learn a new language and experience different cultures, you learn more about yourself, you learn more about the world around you and you have more experiences to make sense of the world,” Van Peursem said.