Compiled by KRISTEN GREEN ’14
Gap years are becoming increasingly common among young prospective college students around the world. Proponents of gap years, or bridge years, as they are sometimes called, say that the break from academics can be beneficial to students leaving an overloaded high school experience. Gap years also chart the path to self discovery. Three Wellesley students from the class of 2017, Kim Asenbeck, Ningyi Xi and Clea Newman, share their gap year experiences and discoveries below.
“I spent the summer after I graduated from high school working as an au pair in Spain, but I spent the bulk of my bridge year in Brazil with a program called Global Citizen Year. I lived with a host family in Salvador da Bahia, in the northeast of the country. While in Brazil, I served as an apprentice to a non-governmental organization (NGO) that empowers Afro-Brazilian youth by helping them gain access to higher education. My role in the NGO was to develop and implement a women’s leadership development workshop series. The workshops were focused on topics like International Women’s Day and the representation of women in the media. My students were excited about learning English, and so we incorporated a great deal of English materials into the workshops. By melding English language learning with leadership development, my students were able to develop both professionally and personally. Alongside my apprenticeship, I spent my time thinking and learning about poverty and development. I took an online course through edX called “The Challenges of Global Poverty,” taught by MIT economics professors, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. The summer after I returned, I finished off my bridge year working as a sushi chef at home in Seattle.
I feel that my bridge year allowed me to enter Wellesley with newfound drive and perspective. As a result of my experiences in Brazil, I am inspired and driven to affect change. My bridge year allowed me time to reflect on my educational experiences and arrive at Wellesley with new, refreshed energy and motivation.
Since returning from Brazil, I’ve remained involved in the bridge year movement. Global Citizen Year is committed to revisioning the pathway from high school to college and aims to make the bridge year a norm in the United States. I’m deeply convinced of the value of such an experience, and committed to making the option more accessible and more mainstream.”
“I knew that I wanted to take a gap year long before I even started thinking about where to go for college. This idea always had a romantic appeal for me, and after more than ten years of schooling, I wanted a break. So after I decided to go to Wellesley, I requested and was granted a deferral of enrollment.
I began the year by working near home for three months. I worked as a waitress, tutor and volunteer for a film festival. I also travelled to many different places around the world, both by myself and with family and friends. I WWOOFed in the Blue Mountains in Australia for two months. WWOOF refers to a program called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, in which people work on farms around the world in exchange for accommodations. I also did a two-month internship in Beijing at a film foundation that supports independent Chinese documentaries.
As for how a gap year might contribute to my Wellesley experience, I can think of more than a few reasons. First of all, because I moved around constantly, I became very accustomed to living and working in new environments, which made the transition to college easier. My gap year also taught me time management skills and the importance of taking initiative. One of the biggest differences between my high school and college experience is that, instead of following a full- day schedule, I now need to plan for myself. Since I wasn’t in any organized gap year program, I always had to plan things and learned the importance of making good use of my time. Also, a number of opportunities came to me because I took the initiative to send an email or make a phone call or introduce myself. I really see the importance of reaching out for opportunities and acting right away whenever I want to do something.
I also met a number of people who had interesting opinions on college education, including an Ivy League graduate who doesn’t think he learned anything from college and a hippie college dropout whose parents are actually college professors. Talking to them really made me reflect on why I wanted to go to college. Now I know that I want to be at Wellesley for the pursuit of knowledge and the unique experience, not because everyone else goes to college.
Last but not least, taking a gap year helped me grow and enabled me to know myself better as a person. I learned so much from my traveling and working experiences and met amazing people along the way who touched me with their kindness. I would encourage anyone who is considering a gap year to seize the opportunity and do it. This is something you will not regret.”
“I went to an academically demanding high school, and I was involved in a lot of extra-curriculars. So even though I was accepted to Wellesley as an early decision applicant, and I was incredibly eager to start, my parents encouraged me to take a breather before I dove into college. My father is a professor, and he had seen too many students burn out and give up during their first semester. I was definitely hesitant to comply at first (the thought of a blank schedule overwhelmed me), but when I learned that my father planned to go on a sabbatical in Edinburgh, Scotland during the fall of 2012, when I would theoretically be starting at Wellesley, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
My parents let me tag along with them to Edinburgh for the first semester of my gap year and allowed me to travel around Europe and China, as long as I showed them an itinerary and told them stories. My travels were less expensive than a semester of college, and I gained a lot from them. I had never taken a flight by myself before last year, and I was known to get anxious quite frequently. I feel that I gained a valuable education from this exploration, and I developed my sense of self in a way that better prepared me for college. I was forced to become a lot more confident and outgoing just by the mere fact that I wasn’t thrown into an environment with thousands of other people of similar age and interests. It really is a challenge to meet people outside of school and other programs, and it makes you grow in a way you otherwise wouldn’t.
My friend, Wes, who also took a gap year last year, and I bonded over that notion. Wes and I had different reasons for taking gap years: I had deferred enrollment for a year; he was accepted into the class of 2017 at his school. We were merely acquaintances before last year, but we discovered that we were very much in the same place when I came back home last winter. Around that time we started to discuss going on a road trip across the United States together. I drove from my home in Cleveland up to Boston, staying with friends at colleges along the way, and when I returned, Wes and I took off for Los Angeles. I remember waking up to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon and talking to Wes about how happy I was to be able to take an entire year off just to enjoy the stuff I normally wouldn’t think to enjoy. It was amazing. That being said, I was more than ready to come back to school after what seemed like an entire year of summer vacation.
I’d say that taking a gap year didn’t really change the way I felt during orientation; it just heightened the feelings I would have had anyway. Instead of feeling a blend of moderate excitement and awkwardness, I felt a blend of extreme excitement and extreme awkwardness. After a year, I needed homework. Even though I made sure to read every day during my gap year, I felt academically unfulfilled. I was so excited to come back to school and be able to discuss the things I read with my classmates. However, I felt like I was coming from a very different place than a lot of my classmates when we met in August. It was definitely an awkward transition into my first year when all of my friends from home were sophomores and I felt that I shared experiences with very few people, but it didn’t take long to realize it was in my head. It doesn’t really matter where you’re coming from; it matters where you are. I found friends here at Wellesley who have amazing ideas and mindsets, and they all come from such different places. It took my experiences on my gap year to make me the way that I am, but people are who they are because of their unique experiences. Overall, I absolutely think that taking a gap year was the best decision I could have made for myself.”