During my sophomore year in high school, the thought of a gap year became appealing. Each person I knew who had taken a year off, including a cousin with whom I am particularly close, spoke passionately about the benefits of their gap year. I looked more seriously into the idea and decided that taking a gap year would be beneficial to me. After I was accepted into college, I requested and was granted a deferral of my admission until the following fall, and I excitedly planned my gap year.
Learning a Language & Experiencing Other Cultures Benefit of Gap Year Travels
During the fall semester, I traveled to Latin America with 15 other gap-year students from around the world on a trip led by Rustic Pathways. I spent a month in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Peru, exploring these countries, deepening my understanding of their different cultures, improving my Spanish skills so that I am now a proficient speaker, and volunteering to work on a number of community service projects.
Gap Year Pushes Teens Mentally and Physically
In each country, I improved my Spanish in both classroom and home environments, helped small communities through physical labor (building floors, latrines, aqueducts, bathrooms, and sidewalks), pushed myself mentally and physically during adventure challenges (rappelling down a 150-foot waterfall, hiking up to Machu Picchu at 4:00 a.m. to see the sunrise, biking through seven different microclimates in four hours, whitewater kayaking through class IV rapids, eating local foods such as guinea pig), and made many new friends of all ages.
I am astonished by how much I learned during those three months from my hosts in each country, my leaders, my fellow travellers, and myself. I learned everything from conquering my fear of heights, to feeding and washing pigs, mixing cement, living in a small room with 11 girls, and country-specific Spanish slang. I explored my mental and physical limits, gained an enhanced appreciation of the need for “alone time” every once in a while, and embraced more than ever the power of a positive attitude and its importance on a challenging trip like this one.
During my gap year travels in Lima, Peru, I was able to leave my Rustic Pathways group and meet up with eight distant relatives, whom I had never met, for a family dinner. This experience was extremely special, and one of the most gratifying parts was that I was able to communicate with ease in Spanish throughout the evening.
Gap Year Allows Time to Explore Rather Than the Pressure to Achieve
This spring semester, I have settled back into my home in Washington, D.C. and am focusing on dancing, which is my deepest passion, and preparing to study engineering at Princeton in the fall. I auditioned for and became a member of a D.C. hip-hop crew with which I now train and perform all over the D.C. area. The crew consists of professional dancers as well as other working women in the area, and I have learned countless life lessons from their experiences and advice. I also continue to take classes at Joy of Motion Dance Center with NCS’s Maurice Johnson and other choreographers.
Gap Year Allows Teens to Explore Interests & Be Better Prepared For College
Since I have not been in school for many months, I also want to make sure that I am fully prepared for my college classes in the fall. This semester, I have been brushing up on my calculus and physics by working through my AP Calculus BC textbook as well as a college Physics textbook. Additionally, I have been teaching myself statistics and computing languages through textbooks to further prepare and hopefully confirm my interest in my intended major.
When I am not dancing or studying, I stay busy with a few part-time jobs, learn new recipes to cook for my family, design and sew clothing (a hobby to which my grandmother has introduced me), read classic literature, visit friends in college, and spend time with my family.
I am confident taking a gap year has been the right decision for me, as I have learned valuable lessons and knowledge about myself, and am even more eager to jump into my work next fall at school. I am very thankful to my parents and university for this opportunity and highly recommend it to other students.