Why Gap Years Are The Best Years

Why Gap Years Are The Best Years

The struggles and reward behind taking a year off from school.
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While thinking of how to write about my gap year and the idea of taking a year off from the expected path, I decided I needed to think outside of my own experience and call on those that had not gone straight into school or a job after high school.

When I asked a group of friends I accumulated over the past year how they were doing in college, not one of them gave me the basic, “I’m great” answer. They all really dove into how their gap year prepared them well in certain aspects and how they are still struggling much like they were in high school.

Responses such as, "my gap year was the greatest thing I’ve ever done" and "I would not be where I am today without the struggles of the past year," really probed me to write about the power gap years have on individuals.

When I asked this select group of people if all high school seniors should take a gap year, their answers were almost all the same:

Yes, but…

“Only to those who are adventurous enough.” The idea of breaking up the monotony of life and taking a break after twelve years of learning is one of the major benefits of taking a gap year, but as one my friends said, “college might be a better choice for some people.” Gap years can be tough, and as an 18-year-old, it is extremely hard to plan an entire unstructured year. Although there are challenges one has to face by taking off a year to work or explore, the benefits are, in my opinion, beyond worth it.

My best friend, whom I met traveling through Asia stated it this way: “If a senior in high school has the ability and support to take a gap year than I would highly suggest one. It’s not that I figured out what I want to major in or a career that I want to follow, but I just know so much more about how I function and what I need to be happy outside of my family home, something I never thought of in high school.”

Each person has their own struggles and rewards surrounding gap years, but most of us can agree on these benefits of a gap year:

1. Passion

The chance to fill your time with what truly interests you is priceless. Part of my year was forcing myself to wake up, research, and act. I ended up finding a deep passion for the spiritual aspects of life and diving into urban farming in my hometown. By discovering these passions outside of school, I now have a whole new desire to learn about them through textbooks and professors.

2. Perspective.

I’ve seen a glimpse of the world after college, and boy I don’t want to go back there until I absolutely have to. As tough as school can get, I am grateful for the safe haven that it is in my life. So many college freshmen miss this and waste a huge portion of their first years in college. Not only do you get to see those living fuller lives with fewer material objects, you get the chance to see what produces joy compared to the empty objectives so many people chase after in our world.

3. Knowledge of Self

As my friend, Sam stated, “I have come away with a better understanding of myself, and that translates into a better understanding of people.” The world is huge and lifestyles are different. By seeing what makes people come alive, you get the chance to adopt certain habits in your own life or leave them where you found them, constantly discovering what brings you joy and makes you come alive.

4. Time

I’ve realized that in life I could always be doing more or being more productive. Having a year that required me to be nowhere and do nothing actually made me more productive and more willing to devote my time to those around me. Having the time to ask someone how their day was and truly wanting to listen has changed my relationships and the way I manage my time.

5. Confidence

There is something about getting lost in a foreign country and not knowing how to find your way home that makes it much easier to join a lunch table with a bunch of strangers.

6. Value of education

My friends who took a gap year all experience a sense of exhilaration being back in a classroom. The cycle of repetitive learning is broken and the monotonous routine of school has been replaced with a sense of freshness. One of my friends put it this way, “I have seen children starving for the opportunity to learn and it has helped me view education as a gift that I have the privilege to pursue and succeed in, but if I came straight out of high school I would have taken it all for granted.”

7. Acceptance

The present moment rocks. If I never travel again I would be perfectly content. By acting on my desires to travel and see the world, I realized that I was made not only to race around the world and have a fabulous time, but also to do it with people I love. I accept where I am in life and would never wish it away, but I would have never been able to say that if I had never left.

A friend of mine who was on my Missions team in Africa explained to me that, “in reality, this was not a year off. I had to be independent and struggle in ways so many of my other friends had never experienced, and maybe never will. But man am I grateful.”

Regardless of whether you stay home to work or travel as far away from home as you can get, taking a year to step onto the less beaten path pays off. I am thankful and blessed to be so supported and loved through that crazy, wonderful year. I hope that you can take this opportunity to explore something you never thought possible and continue to think outside of the box!

If you have any questions or concerns regarding taking a gap year or just want to share your sick stories from your year off, comment below or send me a message (I will forever be obsessed with gap year stories)!

Some of my favorite gap year organizations:

Holly Bull’s Center for Interim Programs- Holly works with you to plan your year, provides you with suitable programs, connects you with past alumni, and is there to help and support you through all of your future travels. I highly recommend having a consultation with her!

Other GREAT travel programs:

Youth International

Carpe Diem

Rustic Pathways

Where There Be Dragons

NOLS

Some of my cool gap year friends who helped me write this article!

Griffin teaching in a rural school in Northern India.

"Nothing exists other than the present, and thus you do nothing now you are unlikely to do anything later.”



Sam doing his thing in the Southern Islands of Thailand!

“Being able to travel is the best thing out there.”

Ari fighting to save the work through her activism work in Paris!

“It’s going to be hard and scary, but that’s the point, and it is so so worth it.”


Rachel spending time in Swaziland, Africa!

“Go travel the world, gain people skills, mature, and live life to the fullest (with a goal set in mind, that is)”.

Katherine getting comfortable in her home stay in Nepal.

“If you yearn for the thing, and the thing is positive, make it happen—don’t get hung up on the road blocks.”



Anna exploring the streets of Costa Rica.

"I guess this year really made me realize how freaking cool I am."

Thanks for reading!

All photo credits go to the talented Sam Von Mettenheim.

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9 Things That Happen When A Walt Disney World Cast Member Visits Disneyland

I traveled from the most magical place on earth to the happiest place on earth.

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As a cast member, you can get free entry to the Disney theme parks. So why not make use of your tickets to head over to Disneyland to see where all the magic originated?

1. Freak out about the history.

Walt Disney LITERALLY walked these grounds. Not that you're freaking out or anything, but you are. Let's talk about Main Street, Sleeping Beauty Castle, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more. Walt Disney literally had a hand in all of it. This is the original park where all the magic was designed and created and you can't help but geek out.

2. Compare the attractions.

They're the same, but they are also different. Let's talk about the facade of The Haunted Mansion. Loving it in New Orleans Square! Thunder Mountain: the same but mirror opposites. Space Mountain you have a riding buddy, but on Splash Mountain you don't. As a Cast Member, you notice all these small differences and can't help but geek out a little when you notice things you like better.

3. Admire the costumes.

They're SO CUTE! When you get used to seeing and wearing the same costumes all the time it is really cool to freak out over the new and unseen ones from a new land.

4. Appreciate the additional discounts.

Food. All the food. I feel like a VIP with all these food discounts!

5. Run back and forth between the parks...because you CAN!

You can get from California Adventure to Disneyland in about one minute! It's so close! What a dream! No busses, no monorail. It's just so convenient! You can hop back and forth all day without losing much time at all!

6. New Orleans Square.

Let's talk about how cool this land is! Walt Disney World is TRUELY missing out here. Without a doubt this is my favorite land in all of the Disney theme parks! I love that the Haunted Mansion is here. I LOVE the Mickey shaped beignets. The shopping is super cute. And you cannot forget about the Blue Bayou inside Pirates of the Caribbean.

7. Test Track<<Radiator Springs Racers.

Beth Monnig

There's literally no contest here. After riding Radiator Springs Racers you'll never care about riding Test Track again. The story is just so immersive on Racers. And you actually are racing someone. It's so cute you could just ride over and over again.

8. Suddenly discover that Disney World is massive in comparison.

Walt Disney World is SO BIG! It really is its own world in comparison to Disneyland. Also, let's talk about the fact that Disneyland is literally right in the middle of LA. There has to be something said for the fact that Walt Disney World is all on its own. The experience is a bit more immersive in that way in Florida.

9. Plan your next trip back.

Beth Monnig

Seriously though. The trip is just so short, even when you spend a couple of days at Disneyland. Despite its smaller size, there is still so much to see and do that you feel like your trip is inevitably too short no matter how long your stay is. The only thing to do is brainstorm to start planning your next trip out!

Walt Disney World will always be home, but as a Disney Cast Member, it's always good to go back to the place where the magic originated.

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Solo Travel As An Extrovert Is Not Easy

Traveling alone, I can choose to view it as a difficult separation from other people or a journey of learning more about myself.

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Life has a funny way of revealing itself and after my mom ditched me on our mother-daughter trip to Taiwan, I found myself on a plane headed to a country I had never visited where I didn't know a soul. (Disclaimer: I have relatives in Taiwan but had never met them prior to the trip.) I was excited for the adventure that awaited, fear not setting in of how difficult it would be not to just travel in a foreign country where I didn't speak or read any Mandarin beyond the very, very basics (Literally my vocabulary consisted of 10 simple words/phrases, one of which was the word for "apple" which isn't that helpful for getting around. I have since picked up a few more phrases.), but also be alone with just myself for company.

So much of who we are is influenced by the people around us. A large part of our identity comes the communities we choose to be part of and how we interact with others. But who are we when no one's looking? Who am I without the pressure of other people around me?

I am an extrovert. I get my energy from being around other people. It's not that I can't spend time by myself; I just prefer to be in the company of others even if we aren't always interacting the entire time. My best friend and I will even do independent activities together. (Once when we were hanging out, she was knitting and I was doing a puzzle. I swear we don't act like grandmas all the time.)

Although an extrovert, I'm still a pretty independent person who doesn't like to rely on others for help. But traveling alone in Taiwan, I don't have much of a choice. I'm forced to learn to navigate public transport myself and somehow survive with the basic English that Taiwanese locals know.

Learning to travel alone has been an emotional and difficult journey as this is the first time I've been on my own for this long. Although lonely at times, I've realized that loneliness is a mental state of mind. There is the Sanskrit saying, "Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha moksayoh" which translates to "As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind." My mind determines my emotional state of being and perspective! Traveling alone, I can choose to view it as a difficult separation from other people or a journey of learning more about myself.

Through solo travel, I am slowly learning to be comfortable with my own company which has been the biggest challenge. I was never an only child, I've always had a roommate in college, and even when I study, I go to public spaces like coffee shops so I can be surrounded by people. I don't know what to do when it's just me and my thoughts all the time. (Especially during meals. Should I appear busy on my phone like all the other single people around me?)


Because when you're traveling alone, you're in charge. You have control. You can change the itinerary from moment to moment without anyone's approval. No one's holding you accountable. Spontaneity? Let's go. You can build barriers but you can also tear them down. It's fun, it's exhilarating. But it's also scary. And unpredictable.


Would I go on another solo expedition in the future? Preferably not as traveling is way more enjoyable when you have someone to share the experience with. It's the people, not the place who make all the difference on a vacation. Yet I do believe solo travel is an experience that everyone should embark on at some point in their life (to grow and learn more about yourself).


This trip has taught me to find spontaneity in the fear and excitement and I've learned to embrace discomfort and unpredictability. To travel with not just my mind and logic but my heart. There are so many unique experiences, if you overthink too much, you'll lose your chance.

I've found that when I am alone, I become more vulnerable and open to meeting new people and having more offbeat experiences. I say yes with zero hesitation. Certainly, there are friends I made, hikes I climbed, streets I meandered, and epiphanies I had that wouldn't have transpired had I been with my mom or a group of people.


Traveling alone, I am now more confident in myself and am ready for the next wave that life throws me. Because I've learned that once you overcome the fear of being by yourself, getting lost (which you will), or accidentally eating meat as a vegan because you didn't understand the signage (I'm sorry!), the world in all its vast infinity can be pretty great. And there are some things that you can only learn on solo travel.

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