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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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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My Future Is Unpredictable And That's Totally Alright

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations.

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For six months, I had plans to study abroad in the Dominican Republic during the fall semester of junior year. Filling out what seemed like endless applications and paperwork, searching for travel ideas on Pinterest, and writing a class research paper on the DR's relationship with its neighboring island, Haiti, I was prepared to live and learn about Dominican culture hands-on.

Then on the Thursday before Finals Week last spring, I read my email. My study abroad program in the DR had gotten canceled. In the span of 30 seconds, my future had taken a new course. Less than a week later, I was submitting papers to study abroad in a new country where another adventure awaited: Ecuador.

If there's anything I've learned in the past year, it's that life is unpredictable and we can't control it. The future is unknown. But-

Who wants to know exactly what's going to happen in the next few years? I mean, I believe it's good to have a direction, but you don't have to have the entire journey pinpointed straight to the core. You meet people, you get inspired, you see things, you have experiences. And you go from there. (Though, I totally respect people who have clear ambitions and stick with them their entire lives.)

Where I was a year ago was a completely different path than where I find myself today. Last summer, I worked four different internships/jobs in the span of three months. A year ago, I would never have guessed my following summer unfolding with an immersion trip to India, a solo adventure to Taiwan & Hong Kong, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. A year ago, I hadn't met half of my best friends. A year ago, I hadn't seen poverty in a third-world country. A year ago, I wasn't even sure I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.

Just because I don't know what the future holds doesn't mean I can't set goals. I have a destination, an idea of where I'm headed and where I want to go. While abroad in Ecuador, I want to learn about sustainable development and coffee production as well as enhance my Spanish skills.

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations. I know the format of the program. I'll be taking classes and living with a host family and then doing an internship at a farm. Otherwise, I have no idea what's going to happen. And that's what I'm looking forward to the most. The spontaneity. The unexpected. As one of my good friends would say whenever he doesn't have formal weekend plans, "I'm improvising." And you know the one rule of improv: Always say yes.

¡Hasta pronto, Ecuador!

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