Sep 14th, 2018, 02:23 PM

Why You Should Take a Gap Year

By Alayna Amrein
Image Credit: Ibrahim Rifath/Unsplash
Advice from two gap-year students and their journeys while abroad.

There is often a negative stigma that follows the phrase "gap year." For most, FOMO, or fear of missing out, and a sense of panic about being declined financial aid deter them from putting their studies on hold to travel the world. In this sense, gap years may tend to carry the image of failure and stress rather than enrichment.

This negative image of gap years, however, did not discourage two AUP freshman, Chloe Denelsbeck and Grace Borchers, from creating their own journey and launching themselves into an adventure.  For them, defining what their gap year meant was a personal experience, and both had the intention of making the most of their year in terms of education, cultural exposure, and life experience.

"I think part of taking a gap year for me was that there was no purpose. I wanted things to go wrong." Grace Borchers said about her preparation and excitement for her adventure.

Both Grace and Chloe made the decision to take a gap year just days before the deadline to commit to AUP. They were able to arrange the trip so that they could enter a year later thanks to the help admissions counselors, Julie Sappington, and Joanna Nolting, who worked internationally with these ladies to prepare for their delayed arrival and for ensured them that they would receive financial aid. Similar to many high school graduates, they had a strong desire to see the world in a way that they had never been exposed to; they wanted to learn all of the things that you did not learn in high school.


Pictured: Grace Borchers traveling Europe. Image Credit: Grace Borchers

As Grace explained, this year was about making mistakes, which she did, and about learning how to react to them in an uplifting manner. By traveling to England, Croatia, Scotland, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Hungary, Thailand, and Cambodia in seven months, she was definitely left with enough time to make all the necessary mistakes.

After being bit by a possibly rabid dog, being cut by a rusty nail, splitting her head open by doing parkour drunkenly at night, and getting a gnarly eye infection that left her with two unmistakably inflated eyes, Grace learned to accept the fact that while these experiences were not pleasant, she could only control how she responded to them. She could not take these experiences back, nor could she ignore their effects. From her struggles and mistakes, Grace realized that it is essential to learn from those experiences and embrace them. That being said, never again will she be doing parkour at night while drunk in the streets of Budapest.

Chloe, having traveled to South Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Israel during her gap year, defined her experience as a year of preparation for her soon-to-be life abroad at AUP in terms of gaining life experience and exposure to the world. She set out to do a short home-stay in the rural village of Chambok, Cambodia, looking to be introduced to eco-tourism. Being hosted by the entire community, she got the chance to not only explore the village and its lovely waterfalls but also to engage in the local way of life.

"I felt like I was a part of it, not like I was intruding on it," Chloe Denelsbeck said, talking about her adventures in south-east Asia.

The hosts in Chambok did not change the way they lived to accommodate her comfort, so she had to adapt to the different customs of Chambok. This included using a drop toilet, or a pit latrine, for the first time, sleeping with mosquito nets, attending communal dinners, and even figuring out how to converse and laugh together despite the language barrier.


Pictured: Friends of Chloe walking through Umbrella Street in Jerusalem. Image Credit: Chloe Denelsbeck

Although the community lived in such a different way compared to her Western lifestyle, particularly in a more ecologically conscious manner, she found that it was a rather noble, aware, and intriguing lifestyle. Instead of viewing these differences as obstacles, she viewed them with an open mind. Upon returning to the U.S. Chloe became aware of her Western habits, prompting her to try to integrate some of the ideas she learned in Chambok to her life in the U.S. and France.

Reflecting on her consumption of material items, Chloe determined that honest happiness is not obtained through objects or money. Instead happiness is obtained through the interactions that we accumulate throughout our lives. For Chloe, seeing how other people lived in completely different parts of the world was one of the most enriching moments of her gap year. 


Pictured: Chloe Denelsbeck strolling through the streets of Israel. Image Credit: Chloe Denelsbeck

Some words of advice for those considering taking a gap year:

1) Use this time to discover what type of person you are. When you find yourself completely alone in a social setting, analyze that to reflect on your sense of self, and based off of that determine who you want to become. In the words of Grace, "the longest relationship you will ever have is the relationship you have with yourself. It's important to cultivate a good one."

2) This year is a year of complete freedom, in terms of traveling. You can do anything you want, go anywhere you desire, eat at any hour of the day, go in or stay out. The choice is yours. Use that lack of attachment to a person to your advantage and go see the world in a way that you fancy, completely disconnected from anyone else's opinions. Do you wish to go night snorkeling for seven dollars in Cambodia as Chloe did? How about exploring Budapest's jazz clubs like Grace? Well, do it!

3) Appreciate the empowerment of knowing that comes with realizing that a hiccup in your travel plans is sometimes your fault and take initiative to fix it and learn from that experience. Remember, things will go wrong and you will find a solution.

4) Enlighten yourself about the adventure of self-discovery and travel through literature, articles, and blogs. Chloe and Grace recommend the books The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl as these books helped guide them through their year.

5) For those wanting to work while traveling in order to fund their gap year, check out websites such as workaway.info for odd jobs that can provide housing, meals, and cash. Grace used this service while traveling and was able to sustain seven months of travel while gaining work experienced and being lodged for free.

Wherever a gap year may take you, remember that it is what you make it out to be. Gap years, contrary to their negative image, can be full of enriching, empowering, and enlightening experiences, if that is what you desire to obtain. So go for it. Work abroad, learn abroad, and adventure abroad. The world is waiting.