Lose yourself in four years, find yourself in the gap

Lose yourself in four years, find yourself in the gap

Juan Zuniga-Mejia


First-year me had everything mapped out. He was going to take his required classes, graduate in May 2019, then transfer over to Whittier College’s Master’s in Education Program for teaching. First-year me knew his right from his left; he knew exactly where he was going. Fourth-year me got lost three years ago and, at this point, he just wants to pull over and watch the clouds go by.

Was I supposed to discover who I am in the four years I spent here? If anything, I think I forgot who I am instead. After years of sitting in many classes, uprooting myself from setting to setting, different professors’ standards, different topics and courses, I have no idea what I am supposed to make of myself. So, I have come to accept that I am burned out, I will be taking a gap year, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

In 2014, the American Gap Year Association (GYA) worked with Dr. Nina Hoe of Temple University in Philadelphia. She designed and hosted an online survey to determine the benefits and worth in taking a gap year between higher forms of education. Hoe’s survey was completed by 558 people, 77 percent of whom did take a gap year between high school and college. Under “Motivations for taking a Gap Year,” the survey showed:  that “97 percent wanted to gain life experience and experience personal growth; 85 percent wanted to travel, see the world, and experience other cultures; [and] 81 percent wanted a break from the traditional academic track.” All three motivations are reasons I want to take a break after graduation, myself.

Many students today benefit from a gap year.  COURTESY OF  CUSTOMER TOUCH POINT

Many students today benefit from a gap year. COURTESY OF CUSTOMER TOUCH POINT

Even if I do feel lost about the person I have become in college, what hasn’t changed is that I want to become a high school educator. However, I don’t feel prepared for Whittier College’s Master’s Program in Education, despite all the education classes and observation hours I have fulfilled with the College. During my gap year, I want to get more fieldwork experience and have more one-on-one mentoring experiences with high school students. 

Taking a gap year doesn’t mean I get to sit at home, bingeing on potato chips and Pokémon re-runs. GYA’s recipe for a successful gap year is to figure out what you love, what you’re good at, what you feel the world needs, and what you can be paid to do. Now, these are all things that we should be thinking about as we pursue our college degrees; however, college also has many factors that don’t necessarily support you (such as classes that are taken for the sole sake of graduating). Within the gap year, you work to better yourself. From volunteering, exploring careers, and “free radical” (what GYA calls exploring the unknown), a person can place all of their time and ideas into exactly what they’re passionate about. The gap year is the perfect time for students to recharge and focus their intelligence on bettering themselves. 

When I think about my own gap year, I think of something that author Neil Gaiman said in his commencement speech to the Universities of the Arts’ Class of 2012. “What worked for me was imagining that [who] I wanted to be . . . was [at] a distant mountain, my goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain, I’d be alright,” said Gaiman. “When I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop and think whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.” Gaiman didn’t attend higher education and has said no to “proper jobs” that offered him a great pay because those decisions would have taken him away from what he wanted to do and who he wanted to become. 

If I go to graduate school right after getting my bachelor’s degree, I will be living with regret. There are more versions of myself that I have to meet and experiences I have to live before I pursue graduate school. Taking a gap year doesn’t mean I’m going to be lazy and do nothing; it doesn’t mean I’m wasting my degree. My gap year will help me grow to become a better writer, student, mentor, and even a better person.