Past student Abigail recalls her time on her Central America Gap Semester with Pacific Discovery in a three-part blog series. In part one, we head to Mexico!

It was 3 a.m. on February 1, 2021.  The COVID-19 pandemic was raging across the United States. And I was choosing to travel. This may not have seemed like the wisest decision, but I knew that the gap year organization I was traveling with, Pacific Discovery, was taking safety precautions. Masks, routine PCR tests, social distancing, frequent use of hand sanitizer... But I still knew that what I was doing was risky.  

As I sat in the car on the way to the San Francisco airport, I felt jittery, excited, and terrified.  I had spent the past few months alone with my parents while working as a distance learning aide. I hadn't had much social interaction since the pandemic started almost a year ago, and I knew I would miss them deeply. But as we said our anxious goodbyes, I knew I was making the right decision. I had an opportunity to explore the world during my gap year, just as I had intended to do. I knew I had to seize this opportunity. Throughout my flights from San Francisco to Dallas and Dallas to Cozumel, I was able to meet a handful of other students from my trip. My fears began to ease as we settled into the warm Caribbean air of Mexico.  

The first few days of our trip, we spent a lot of time doing our e-learning course for our PADI Open Water Diver certifications. Although it wasn't the most exciting start to our trip, we did get to spend some time at the beach and settle in, as well as stay isolated until we received negative COVID-19 test results. If you've never been scuba diving before, know that it can be extremely anxiety-inducing at first. At least for me it was. When we started doing skills in the pool, I found myself becoming very claustrophobic, as well as self-conscious when my fellow students performed the skills with ease while I struggled. I told one of my program instructors, Jack and Amelia, that I wasn't sure I wanted to go through with the PADI certification, and they understood. 

Central America Gap Semester Scuba Diving

But then something changed. Amelia told me how our dive instructor, Nina, fully believed in my ability to get my certification. I didn't have to go through with all four dives needed for the Open Water Diver qualification; I could just try one or two if I wanted to. I decided to trust Amelia and Nina. While on the boat to the dive site, my stomach churning with anxiety, I remember Nina saying that she knew I could do this, and I could stop and steady myself before performing our safety skills underwater. She said she would be there the whole time to support me. 

As we descended into the aqua blue waters of Cozumel, I was amazed by the warmth of the water and the comfort of the kaleidoscopic fish around us. They weren't afraid to come very close to us. We proceeded with our dive skills. Since I had not passed one of the skills during the previous day in the pool, I did the skill on the ocean floor in Cozumel. I will never forget Nina holding my hand as I performed the skill. 

We continued to enjoy the dive. We swam above, around, and through forests of coral, painted in orange and pink and purple.  We were even lucky enough to be diving close to the ocean floor when a majestic green sea turtle swam near the surface.  I couldn't believe I was actually seeing, let alone swimming below, a green sea turtle. 

Central America Gap Semester scuba

My scuba diving journey reflects something that Pacific Discovery likes to call the “challenge” zone. Basically, during trip orientation, your instructors talk about your comfort zone, your challenge zone, and your panic zone. Activities you are comfortable doing are in your comfort zone. Activities that make you uncomfortable but are still manageable are in your challenge zone. Activities that cause you so much anxiety and panic that they are not feasible for you are in your panic zone. Pacific Discovery instructors aim to push you so that you are spending the majority of your time on program in your challenge zone. This contributes to your overall growth and confidence. It certainly did for me. Scuba diving was in my challenge zone, and with the support of my divemaster and my program instructor, I was able to conquer this mental challenge. I was gifted with rewards such as unforgettable sights, an incredible experience, and greater confidence and self-esteem. 

Scuba diving has quickly become one of my favorite activities, and I can't wait to use my PADI skills on future dives in exotic places. Just a few weeks ago, I went diving in Florida and saw a shipwreck. I highly recommend this activity to anyone willing to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and witness a whole new world.

Learn more about our Central America Gap Semester here.

by Abigail Hasselbrink

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Author Pacific Discovery Outreach Posted

Category Central America Departure Fall 2023