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CULTURE CORNER




Getting an Insight into American Culture

Gap year

 

A gap year is a period of time when students take a break from formal education to travel, volunteer, study, intern, or work. A gap year is also referred to as a deferred year, year out, year off, time out, time off. A gap year experience can last for several weeks, a semester, or up to a year or more. Typically a gap year is taken between high school graduation and starting college, during college, or between college and starting graduate school or a career.

Read the stories below and say whose experience appeals to you most. Why?

Matt: I spent a gap year volunteering at a hospital in rural Zimbabwe and came away forever changed. At first I was as homesick as can be, but was in too remote a place to change my mind. The experiences I had could fill a book, from medical experience I gained at the hospital to the cultural experience of living with a Zimbabwean family, to the personal learning experience of being the only non-Zimbabwean for many, many miles around.

Katherine: Taking a gap year has hands down been the best decision that I’ve ever made. At the age of 18, I’m currently living in my own apartment rent free in Paris, just a ten minutes walk from the Notre Dame. How many of my contemporaries from home can say that they’ve done something like that? I’m an au pair, doing babysitting for a Parisian family in exchange for an apartment and pocket money, what I’ve found to be the cheapest way to live in Europe. My experiences thus far have been invaluable – I’ve gotten to travel in my free time, to Italy and England, and made friends who I know will continue to be so for the rest of my life. I’ve also gained a new outlook on different paths that one can take to higher education; instead of going to the small school back home in North Carolina that I deferred from, I’ll be going to St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, something that I would have never even looked into if it had not been for meeting so many international people here who urged me to look for college options that were a bit outside of the box.

Tamara J. Erickson: Our daughter took a year off, a gap year, between high school and college. She spent most of the year doing physically difficult, menial labor on horse farms in South Carolina, as well as riding, competing, and just generally learning how live on her own – dealing with irrational bosses, negotiating with landlords and truck repairmen, and finding how many ways she could stretch a box of pasta into a week’s meals. She also backpacked solo around Europe for a month, leveraging her Euro-rail pass into visits to as many art museums as time would allow, and spent another month on a NOLs program, kayaking in Alaska. Although the choice of activities was uniquely hers, the experience itself is one that I highly recommend to any graduate. Just living in the world, doing manual labor, figuring how to make ends meet, gave her a calm confidence that is palpably different from many of her current college cohorts who raced from high pressured high school classes into the intense college setting.

Rachel: I spent a year volunteering and studying in Israel through Masa Israel’s Young Judaea Year Course. While living in Bat Yam, a periphery city right outside of Tel Aviv, I worked in a local public school, tutoring kids in English. I also spent some time volunteering in an orphanage in southern Israel. I saw all of Israel, hiking the Sea-to-Sea Israel Trail, and trekking through Israel’s history and beauty. My Hebrew improved immensely and I made lifelong connections with my American peers and Israeli neighbors.

Gregory: I wanted to see how the other half lived, to learn the things that weren’t found in books, to live a phantasmagoria of unforgettable experiences.So I went to China. So far, I’ve rock-climbed above Buddhist grottoes, showered in underground waterfalls, squeaked my way across 13th-century temples hanging halfway up cliffs, and stayed in earthquake-ravaged villages where everyone still dwells in tents. In a one-street town whose sole cabdriver appeared to be blind, I went deep inside one of the world’s most dazzling monasteries to party with monks (the scene was about as bangin’ as what you’d expect from a group of pacifists). I’ve motorcycled across a frozen holy lake in the Himalayas, and I’ve stared into giant volcano pits on the North Korean border (learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/what-would-you-do-with-a-gap-year/).

Activity I: Discussing the Issues

1. What do you think a gap year is: a legitimate way to learn and grow or excuse to avoid work and school?

2. Could a gap year be, in some ways, even more valuable than a year of college?

3. If you had the chance to take a gap year, would you do it? Why/Why not?

4. If you took a gap year, how would you spend it? Would you travel, volunteer, work? Would your parents support or oppose your decision to take a gap year?







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