We are Wildcats: Basil Wiering ‘23 on Gap Years in India and L.A.

Skylar McVicar ’23

We Are Wildcats is a human-interest column which aims to share the extraordinary within the ordinary at Davidson College and to showcase the inspiring things that make each and every Wildcat unique. If you wish to be featured or feel someone’s story needs to be heard, please feel free to contact wearewildcatsDC@gmail.com! Stay tuned for future stories!

Basil sitting on the steps of the Amer Palace in Jaipur, India.  Photo by Sunghoon Kwak.

Q: What is your name, graduation year, and hometown?

A: Basil Wiering, Class of 2023, Michigan

Q: What is your favorite spot on or around campus?

A: I like my dorm a lot and enjoy spending time there, but Wall is very pretty and nice to study in too.

Q: Tell me a quick background about yourself.

A: After graduating high school in Michigan, I committed to do a year in Pune Maharashtra, India. There I interned with Teach for India, lived with a host family, learned the language, and took my time there as a chance to develop my street photography. After that, I came home for a bit and then committed to City Year Los Angeles to continue teaching. City Year LA is a nonprofit working in education. I worked for a year with eighth graders in classrooms and after school programs. Now, I am here at Davidson.

Q: Why did you apply to teach in India?

A: My primary motivation was about going to another country to immerse myself in a different culture. I really wanted to go to India and interviewing at Teach for India was an available and appealing program. I was also assigned a mentor through this program who was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.

Q: How did you become interested in taking a gap year in India? What/who motivated you? Why is it important to you?

A: After high school, I realized I had a lot of bottled energy that would be better used gaining experiential knowledge in the real world than in a classroom. My mom was the first person who suggested the idea of a gap year, and it was important to have her support because my high school was very focused on sending students straight to college.

Q: How did you adapt to a significant culture change? What did you learn from this culture shock?

A: The culture shock when I arrived in India was huge. It took me a long time to get the head bobble down. In India, the head motion that is most prominent is a bobble that is used throughout dialogue and can mean “yes,” “no,” “I disagree,” “I understand,” or anything else. By the end of my gap year, I figured out the gestures and had basic language translation skills. Additionally, I adjusted to often being the only white person around. I received a lot of privilege and attention for being white. People often changed how they acted while around me. I also had to get used to the constant bustle of activity. There were constantly cows roaming the streets, people everywhere, and sounds and different colors to observe. Basically every single aspect of life was very different. Honestly, though, the culture shock coming home was the hardest. When I returned, I felt out-of-place and uneasy for a while. I loved having stimuli and people around like I did in India and my hometown felt empty and less-human.

Q: Why did you decide to take another gap year? How did you choose the second program?

A: When I returned to America, I felt I still had the energy needed to take another year off from schooling and pursue my passion for education, exploration, and photography. I was interested in teaching in America because I have the linguistic skills to make the biggest impact here and wanted to take my teaching skills gained in India and apply them in America. I wanted to go to Los Angeles to explore a new city, engage with the photography and music industry there, and the weather.

Q: What did you learn at City Year Los Angeles?

A: In some ways being in Los Angeles was so much more challenging than my year in India. The City Year program is so intense as most volunteers already had college degrees. I learned important career development and networking skills, became more pragmatic and organized, had to buy groceries, pay bills, and take care of my apartment. 

Q: How have your gap years influenced your personality?

A: Both my experiences in India and Los Angeles have made me more open to other people and aware of the countless stories that every individual has. I now know that I can learn from every person if I am open and accepting of his/her story. Every interaction has the potential to be mutually beneficial.

Q: What are your future aspirations?

A: I know that I don’t want to be a teacher, but I do like to work with kids. I like to live spontaneously and both India, Los Angeles, and Davidson are different paths that I didn’t plan for and have molded me into the person I am today. I know that if I continue living life passionately and with momentum, then my energy will give me direction.

Q: Do you have any tips for your peers?

A: Stay open and don’t plan too far ahead. Stick with the parts of you that are central to your character. Things always change, stay true to yourself.

Skylar McVicar ‘23 is an undeclared major from Los Angeles, California. 

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