Just a little over a year ago, Bria de la Mare was returning from a summer experience working with a Theatre for Development group in Kenya through Performing Arts Abroad. Looking back a year later, she considers the enormity of her decision to take a risk and try something new…
I used to never understand the idea of a Gap Year, I never understood the need to travel before going ahead with another three years of study. Most people I studied with were either too impatient and jumped at the opportunity of freedom to travel whilst others were petrified that if they went for a year of freedom, they would never come back.
I can see why.
I’m from the UK and have just finished my first year at East 15 Acting School on a course called World Performance. Performing Arts Abroad seemed like a match made in heaven as something which would push me into my studies with something unique to drive me through. I decided to go to Kenya with PAA almost at the last minute, I knew I wanted to do something, after a year of working I wanted to get out there, but I had no idea why. When I was accepted into the programme it was really a fight or flight moment, I booked my plane tickets, and there was no going back. Thank goodness for non-refundable airline fares!
The experience was ridiculously insane, nothing I could have ever imagined, challenging, exciting, unpredictable and breath-taking. When I imagine myself not clicking that confirmation button that would send me off to the unknown I shudder, thinking of all the things I would have missed out on.
I would never have had the fresh perspective on what I do that was so vital for preparing me for my studies. I would never have the confidence I have now to try something new, which, on my course is something I have to try very often. The spontaneity of the Kenyan culture challenged me to throw myself into lessons which could take a turn at any point, in any direction. Improvisation is one of my weakest points, but I am no longer scared of it, not after running classes with some of the most enthusiastic and crazy people who simply love what they do. This year I have heard the words ‘It’s okay to fail, just don’t be afraid to try’ countless times, and although the notion still can scare me, I know I’ve done it before and that is something which will always launch me into things I probably would have never done a year ago.
I would have never met the people I met, people whose stories will inspire and change your perception of the world forever. People out there are incredibly kind and welcoming, the culture difference becomes something you will treasure as they will surprise and challenge your way of thinking. I made some very good friends out there and learnt some things about human resilience that I would have never found in my everyday life. Today I write about their stories and the lessons they have learnt and in return taught me, they are things you will never forget and they have impacted the work I have produced and will produce in my future studies.
I would never have seen and done so many beautiful things. Nairobi is a BIG city and in it you will find all kinds of life. I would never have travelled on crazy Matatus, the transport buses that will make you appreciate your rickety bus at home (however, I still crave a drive in one again, when I’m sitting on my boring bus into town). I would never have started loving bananas, they are everywhere along with other fruits you have never seen before! I would have never been caught in a rain storm! I would never have visited beautiful Mombasa where coconuts and palm trees really become your reality (I had to blink several times at my surroundings to reassure myself that what I was seeing was real). I would never have danced all night with people who just know how to dance, EVERYONE loves to dance. These experiences big or small, all amount to realising, that going abroad is a gateway to try new and exciting things!
I would never have seen children’s faces light up as young adults went into the orphanage situated in one of the largest slums in Africa and put on a festival of singing, dancing and performance for them. I would never have been so blessed to participate in that and met so many beautiful people instilling hope into these children’s lives. I’ll never forget how shy the kids were at first, before long they were scrambling up my leg, and playing with my ‘strange’ hair.
I would never have had the chance to use what I love in such a new and different way, not only for my own experience and advantage but for others, to share something with others that is so special to them also. I would never have grown so much in one month and learnt more about humanity than I have throughout my life.
If I had never have gone, I never would have taken those footsteps down a path which I know I will return back to one day, a path which I know goes further, a path which is no longer strange and something to be frightened off, but a path which I am itching to rediscover again.
So don’t be afraid, take a dive I promise you, you will not regret it!
Written by Bria de la Mare
Performing Arts Abroad Theater Volunteer in Kenya alum