The Alternative Route to Freshman Year | The American Word

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The Alternative Route to Freshman Year

Taking a Gap Year

Arielle Weg | 1/16/15 2:25pm
| Updated 1/16/15 2:37pm

Did it ever occur to you that you didn’t have to go to college straight out of high school? For a small percentage of American University students, going directly to university was not their only option when graduation rolled around. This time off, often referred to as a gap year, gives many students opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

A gap year is not simply sitting at home and catching up on Netflix and sleep for a year. It encompasses opportunity, growth, and sometimes exposure to a world different from your own. Some AU students that took a gap year participated in programs such as Peace Corps, Global Citizen Year, or various religious trips abroad. Many other students decided to take the year off to work or travel in preparation for the next four years of studying.

During this year abroad, students can participate in countless experiences that could change their lives forever. I personally attended a program called NATIV, where I had the incredible opportunity to work in an art studio for psychiatric patients. Stephanie Blitzer, a freshman who participated on a program called Year Course, worked in a youth village in Rwanda for a month. Katie Corwin, a sophomore who spent the year on a program called Aardvark, interned in Tel Aviv, Israel. Katie credits her internship with her political opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because of her first hand view, Katie is currently the president of the J-Street group on campus. Doron Shore, a sophomore who spent the year on a program called Hobonim Dror Workshop, had the chance to spend extended time with the Ethiopian community of Israel. Doron found that some of his best moments in Israel were with the Ethiopians where he attended their local events and learned about their history and culture.

Many of the students who participated in a gap year program found that it was beneficial to their growth as a student. Rachel Teevens, a freshman who spent the year in Senegal through Global Citizen Year, mentioned, “after twelve years of people dictating what you do and who you see, it gives you more direction of what’s after.” Stephanie Blitzer mentioned how it gave her time to “rest for a bit and process everything [she] learned”. Other students talked about how they wanted to use their youth in its prime to explore the world. Doron Shore said he “wanted to extend [his] youth one more year. Being a youth is a unique time, and a lot of time in our society it passes you by a little too quickly.”

Though there are many reasons one might take a gap year, a lot of the benefits of taking a year off tie into being more prepared for the college life. Many gap year participants discussed feeling more prepared for living alone and felt more independent than some of the other freshman. Stephanie talked about how being homesick at AU was never really a concern after living abroad for a year. She felt being social wasn’t difficult, and she was less anxious to start living at AU. Doron Shore made a very interesting comment saying that “AU is super international. If I didn’t go on my gap year, I wouldn’t have much life experience or global credibility”.

It seems in the world today there is an assumption at graduation that you have a plan for your life. Everyone knows what college they are going to and what career path they’re taking. Many students find their future to be overwhelming at the young age of eighteen, but are unaware of the alternative options. Obviously a gap year is no longer an option for AU students, but it is something to be aware exists and maybe something to recommend to younger friends starting the application process now. Naomi Tamura, a freshman who participated on Habonim Dror Workshop, said it right. “A gap year is a specific time, a once in a lifetime opportunity.” So offer that option to younger friends, and learn from those who have had these opportunities abroad that are on your campus today.