When my best friend Kallie graduated from high school last year she didn’t spend the summer picking out bedding or searching for a roommate. Instead, she spent the summer prepping for an incredible year of travel and growth and change. My friend Kallie spent this past year taking a gap year. According to Kallie it was the best decision she has ever made.

Kallie always knew that she wanted to do something different between high school and college. She never knew exactly what that “different” thing would be, but she knew it would be amazing. Kallie spent nearly six months researching and planning the perfect year. Ultimately she decided on an incredible itinerary that started with two months in Cape Eluthera, Bahamas at The Cape Eluthera Institute. After a quick pit stop back in Florida, she made her way to Baja, Mexico where she spent three weeks on NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) sailing program. Finally Kallie ended her year studying in Seville, Spain at Universidad de Pablo Olivide for four months.

Kallie learned a lot over the course of one year. One of the coolest parts of her year was discovering her passion: the environment. Without realizing while she was planning her year, all of Kallie’s programs seemed to somehow connect to the environment or conservation. The Cape Eluthera Institute is a facility that combines research and education to enhance conservation initiatives. While there Kallie was educated on the science behind conservation, the marine biology of the Bahamian ecosystem, and up close and personal with a few sharks. On the NOLS program the biggest struggle (but also the greatest teaching tool) was learning how to survive with minimal comforts. Each week food had to be rationed so that it would last an entire week, but also not be wasted at the end of the week. The program focused on living with the environment not fighting against it. Finally in Spain while studying at Universidad de Pablo Olivide one of the classes Kallie took was environmental science. After her three different trips Kallie really became aware of how much she enjoys learning about and helping the environment.

Besides learning about a field she really enjoys, Kallie learned a lot about herself. One of the greatest lessons she learned was truly relishing every moment of everyday. According to Kallie, that lesson was also one of the hardest. While being so far away from home it was very difficult for her to stay in touch with friends and family. Some parts of her year she was not allowed any contact with anyone and other parts she had to overcome time differences and spotty connections. What she had to do was learn to not stress about not being able to communicate with loved ones. What she realized was everyday is an adventure and to live for those adventures.

Kallie said her third greatest takeaway was enjoying the people you meet in life. This, she says, will be her greatest advantage in going to college next year. Kallie knew no one on her programs. She had to start each program completely alone, but ended each with amazing new friends. Kallie thinks this will help her start college with an open mind to every person she meets. She knows now that she can put herself out there and have an amazing time at college.

Kallie feels that without taking her gap year she would not be the same person she is today. Her year was full of growth and change that will only enhance her life and her college experience.

Note from Kallie: “If you are taking a gap year, you are the smartest person I know. If you are thinking about taking a gap year, do it!”