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My Gap Year

“Anya, have you ever thought of taking a gap year?”
“What’s that?”
“It’s when you take a year in between high school and college to do something meaningful.”
“No Mom, I’m going to graduate from high school and go straight to OSU.”

^^^A real conversation I had when I was twelve.

When I was sixteen, this “conversation” happened.

“Hey Mom guess what I’m taking a gap year didn’t I have such a good idea”

My parents knew I was going to take a gap year before I did. When I was younger, I wasn’t considering one at all. Only through moving to Singapore did I realise that I had (and still have) tons of the world to see, and that’s when I decided I needed a year to grow up and explore.
Now, after completing my gap year (relatively immensely upset about that), I’m a total advocate of them. I think EVERYONE should take them because they really are meaningful.
There are tons of reasons to take a gap year, the one high schools like to point out is the fact that gap year students consistently have higher college GPAs. For me, that’s a nice fact, sure, but the lessons I’ve learned throughout my year have allowed me to grow and mature into a completely changed person, and that’s the reason I urge people to take a gap year.
Taking a gap year allowed me to see the world, to do what I was incredibly passionate about. I had to learn the skills needed to travel completely on my own. I learned about budgeting, providing for myself, paying [traveler] taxes (gotta start somewhere, right?); I learned about the world as a complex system, and also about myself. This year has taught me more about myself than the entirety of the 18 years prior to it.
My gap year allowed me to set goals and complete them without the restraint of time or school. I was able to get a clear understanding of the world through being thrown out into the middle of it. I was able to become a global citizen, one who was truly trying to learn something from each and every destination hit.
I started out the year in Europe, where I learned that 1) Europe is an expensive place to travel, and that 2) sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you really want, and that’s okay.
I continued to Vietnam, where I learnt that events that have happened decades prior really still do affect society in daily situations. I learned that every country has their own opinion of the past and that they’re entitled to it. I learnt what true suffering from past events looked like, and as awful and poignant that was to see,  it pushed me to see the beauty of broken countries, and how in some ways, they are less broken than the countries we consider strong and whole.
I learned what living on your own was like. When I spent my entire day on an Austrian train, and the freezing night at a station, I also learnt about sympathy and empathy, especially after seeing the Syrian refugees huddled together for warmth. When I bought two refugee children candy and watched them share it with their friends, I was touched, and the lesson in compassion I had learnt in that moment has continued to stick with me.
I learned that I could do things if I put my mind to it. I had always wanted to go to Everest Base Camp, and through taking this year, I was able to do it. It was an indescribable feeling taking that final step across a tiny ice path and just knowing that I had made it (although that doesn’t even compare to what other people have done).
I have never felt more empowered than when I was walking down from Annapurna Base Camp. Not because I had completed the trek, but because I had gone to Nepal on my own with plenty of insecurities and self doubts, and after making it to Base Camp, they were all gone.
I was quickly humbled when thrown into my internship, where I was the “newbie,” completely unsure of myself, but I am learning how to be a better employee and person every day.
It’s not only the trips as a whole that have taught me so much, it’s also the people I’ve met. The people I’ve met along the journeys are the ones that have shared the most invaluable lessons. I will always remember a very good friend of mine (whom I met through travel) telling me that it was okay to ask for help when I was unhappy or incapable of doing something, that it didn’t make me weaker. After years of struggling to maintain the appearance of being “Little Miss Sunshine,” in an effort to avoid looking sad (and weak), those words deeply resonated with me, and I found that eventually, I didn’t even need to be concerned about “looking happy,” as I was genuinely the happiest I’d ever been. Whenever I’m feeling down or even just frustrated with myself, I remember the moment in which that sentence was spoken, and I’m immediately taken back to my gap year; my brain is instantaneously flooded with the happiest moments of my life.
Another woman I had met whilst traveling, Jennifer, had just completely inspired me to be the person I’m working on becoming. She was so independent and sure of herself, full of compassion and adventure and bravery. She was everything I could ever hope to be, and even though I had only met her the day prior, I couldn’t help but admire everything about her. We talked as we trekked down from base camp together, and in those 8 hours or so, I had learned so much about the world around us through her. She, as well as my trekking partner of a month (and honestly, everyone I met while trekking [both times around]), are perfect examples of people who change your life- even if they only come into your life in a moment.
This gap year has meant everything to me. It’s been full of just as much, if not more, learning as high school, although the lessons are quite different. This year was the best one I’ve experienced yet, but that’s not to say that there weren’t hardships and days where I was incredibly unhappy. I found that the hard days, however, were the ones where I learned the most.
The return home is where I first noticed all of the internal changes that had happened. Upon living at home again, the realization that I was not the same person I left as became overwhelming. I didn’t feel like I had become more confident in my abilities until I came home. My core and values and general outlook on life had changed so much that I was doubting decisions I had made the year before, about school, where I wanted to live, what I wanted to do. Luckily, that self-doubt has passed, but for a few weeks, I was so sure I had changed into an entirely different person that I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. Luckily, other gap year kids had the same feelings, so I was a little more reassured. I’m telling you, gap years change you!!!
I’ve found myself to be a little bit of an old soul upon coming back. Throughout my year, I had been constantly developing into a more mature person. I’ve seen plenty that I wanted to turn a blind eye to, and I’ve experienced some absolutely terrifying moments. I’ve been thrown in and out of situations that have made me uncomfortable, but I’ve also been trained to remain calm and just handle it. My view of the world has changed from a relatively “US/Singapore-centric” point of view to a completely global one, one where I can see and understand problems with much more complexity than I had been able to before.
It feels nearly impossible to explain everything I’ve been able to gain from just this past year, but the effects are there. Gap years change you.
Adventures change you.
I’m not ready to say goodbye to this wonderful, nomadic, carefree life. I find going to school incredibly exciting, but also relatively uncomfortable. Luckily, if there’s one thing that this year has taught me, it’s that sometimes, you need to do things you’re apprehensive about, as there’s no better way to see what you’re capable of.
I’m comin’ for you Mount Holyoke!!!

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