Laura was accepted at college, but learned that she would not start her freshman year until January. She saw this as an opportunity to do something different and chose to study several forms of textile design and the ancient practice of yoga. During her time in India she ate only with the fingers of her right hand, learned to touch the feet of her elders as a sign of respect and wore traditional Indian clothing in order to maintain the modesty of a respectable woman. Living as a racial minority, she rode in trains with snake charmers and staring men and learned to move aside for the holy cows that saunter through the streets. At the end of her time, Laura observed: “I feel stronger for having survived these new experiences and overcoming my fear of the unfamiliar.”
Ben and Sara who were both gap year students took off for Asia to pursue very different interests. Ben spent two months living in a Buddhist temple and then lived with a Thai herbalist studying Eastern medicine. Sara’s goal was to work with Tibetan refugees. She spent her first semester studying the Tibetan language and taking a glass blowing class and then left for Nepal to work with Tibetan children who stayed at the refugee center until housing could be found.
Kerry had loved high school and so was excited about the next 4 years at college. However freshman year was not what she expected and made her question her choice of schools. Kerry decided to take a leave of absence, hoping to gain insight into why her first year had been so difficult. She had grown up around boats and jumped at the opportunity to sail in the Caribbean as part of a semester long program in marine biology and oceanography. While the setting was familiar, the challenges were not, but Kerry persevered and this experience gave her the confidence to take more risks in choosing an option for her second semester. For her second experience Kerry left for Africa on her own to teach in two very different classroom settings. Initially she worked as a teacher’s assistant and sports instructor in a rural elementary school, and then moved on to an inner-city school. Kerry’s experience with unfamiliar surroundings, her willingness to take risks, and her sense of accomplishment altered her perspective and did indeed shed light on her troubled freshman year. As Kerry headed back for her sophomore year she was more confident than ever and told her friends: “It’s not just about where you go and what you do. It’s the process that you go through when you decide to take time away that helps to change your life.”
Alex realized about three weeks into his freshman year that his choice of college was not a good fit so he withdrew to research and reapply for the following year. During this time he worked to help finance his experience. Max wanted to learn about theater production so he chose to intern at a small production company, setting up the lighting and creating new props and even serving as a stand-in for several actors. His experiences lead him to select a university with a strong program in theater arts.
Harry took a leave of absence from college to explore his transfer possibilities. He spent the semester in the Pacific on three different islands and was delighted to learn that he would earn 12 semester credits without ever going into a traditional classroom.
Jen felt that she had always been on the fast track and so decided to take a gap year to pursue her passion for dance, Spanish, and community service. She spent her first semester in South America teaching and working on community service projects that combined the needs of the village with her special interests and talent. After returning home for 3 months to earn money for the remainder of her year, she left for Spain to attend an intensive course in flamenco dance and guitar and finished her time studying art history in Europe. Jen started her freshman year of college energized by the year off of her dreams.