An Interview with My Alma Mater

To the adventurous, motivated, and restless high school senior:

With January first just around the corner, ’tis the season for college frenzy. But in the midst of your preparations, remember that there is an option to ditch the hyperactive high school-college-work treadmill that keeps you so busy you don’t have time to stop and think about the supposed path you’re running down. Why not a bridge year? I haven’t regretted my decision once. Here’s what I told my high school…

Where are you taking your gap year and what are you doing there?

I am living with a local family in Ibarra, Ecuador as part of a program called Global Citizen Year.  I volunteer at the Ecuadorian Red Cross, which entails everything from emergency rescues to medical training to classroom discussions with local students.

Originally, I had planned to pack a backpack and travel solo, using my personal contacts in other countries to research social entrepreneurship. When my college plans took an unexpected turn, I decided to apply to a program that offered the safety benefits of an established organization without compromising a high level of independence.

Why did you decide to take a gap year?

First, I’d like to clarify that I am taking a “bridge” year rather than a “gap” year–the language matters because it is part of the effort to change a misconception that deferring college plans for a year after high school is taking time off; in fact, I have grown considerably emotionally and intellectually since graduation and been challenged in a rigorous setting outside a traditional classroom. Rather than a gap between two educational institutions, this year is a bridge between one chapter of my life and the next, offering an opportunity to experience the world for all its raw and real beauty and prepare me for what lies ahead.

As for why I decided to take a bridge year, my motivation was three-fold: to step back into the larger context of our world after nearly burning myself out in high school, to become proficient in a second language, and to learn about a culture entirely different than my own–after all, if we are to be global citizens, we must first try and understand people of foreign backgrounds and practices.

Was Breck supportive of you taking a gap year? How did being a student at Breck make the process easier/harder?

Frankly, I didn’t tell anyone about my plans to take a bridge year until they were practically set. I had researched options for after high school since the beginning of sophomore year and applied to Global Citizen Year in secret, announcing to my parents that I was “by the way, going to Ecuador” only after I was accepted with aid in April my senior year. Breck played a huge role in igniting my desire to explore the world in the first place thanks to our initial Thailand trip in 2011. When college counselors and administrators learned of the opportunity, they, too, were fully supportive and haven’t been anything but, since. Being a student at Breck facilitated the process because the school offered its best resources–the faculty and staff that care about the character development of their students beyond their performance in class.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of taking a gap year?
There are so many! Regardless of your interests, a bridge year offers the chance to step off the treadmill students are inevitably on simply by their being at a private school in an American education system that sends young adults from high school to college to a career without pausing to ask what it’s all for.
Whether your bridge year is ten miles from home or ten thousand, it provides a chance to change up routine, meet people outside your normal social circle, and ask the big life questions that lead to the development of humble, empathetic leaders.

Do you have any advice for students considering taking a gap year?

Start the process early. Unlike me, communicate often and openly with those that will help make it possible, including parents and teachers. There are resources abound at Breck–tap into them. And never hesitate to contact me; I’m happy to help in way I can.