In Fervent Support of the ‘Gap Year' by Susan H. Greenberg
The New York Times, January 4, 2015
I wasn't enthusiastic when my daughter first floated her plan to take a "gap year" before college. I didn't see the point of delaying that great intellectual awakening. And what if her gap year turned into a permanent crevasse and she never earned a degree? […] But she needed a break. Besides, my husband and I weren't eager to pay for a college education she wasn't ready for. […]
She remained preternaturally calm about the prospect of moving overseas until about a month before her departure. "I hope I don't freak out when I get there," she remarked one day. "You know, being in a foreign country where I don't know anyone, not speaking the language, living by myself…" I, of course, had been silently considering that possibility for months. But rather than scream, "Well, DUH! Shouldn't you have thought about that before?" I simply said, "What's the worst that can happen? If you hate it, you'll do something else."
I needn't have worried. Taking a gap year turned out to be one of the smartest decisions my daughter has ever made. She had a spectacular experience in Salzburg, bonding with her lost family, perfecting her German, traveling through Europe with assorted new friends, and otherwise developing the confidence and skills necessary to navigate unfamiliar terrain.
By the time she started college this fall, she couldn't have been better prepared − or more excited. She approached the whole experience of picking classes, making friends and trying new activities with a newfound sense of purpose and perspective. The gap year broadened her academic interests […] as well as deepened her extracurricular ones.
William Sutcliffe, Are You Experienced?, 1997
[In this document the narrator is an English young man whose gap year is coming to an end.]
On the train to Delhi, I felt that I was already on my way home, and had the strange sensation that more than anything else this was exactly what I wanted to be doing. I didn't want to be at home, I wanted to be going home. All the difficult stuff was behind me, and the long train journey back to the capital felt like a lap of honour. Staring out of the window while I returned to my starting point, I began to feel all colonial about things − as if I was surveying territory that I had conquered. The longer the journey lasted, the more impressed with myself I became. Such a huge distance, and it was all mine − I'd done it all. I couldn't believe that I'd actually covered so much ground on my own − and without getting killed, robbed or eaten.
For the entire forty-eight-hour journey, I stared out of the window in a state of serene calm, or slept the dreamless sleep of a freshly crowned Olympic champion.
Back in Delhi, I returned to Mrs Colaço's guest-house and even managed to get the same dormitory bed as last time. I sat on the hard mattress for a while, cross-legged, and contemplated how cool I was. I had actually done it. I was back where I started, and I was still alive. I felt years older and infinitely wiser than when I'd last been in the same place. I had lasted the entire three months without giving up and going home. The trip was a success.
I still didn't really know what travelers were supposed to do all day, but that didn't seem to matter. I was a traveler. I'd been to places and done things that most people avoid out of fear. I had suffered, and confronted dark sides of myself. I had experienced the world.
After a while, two nervous guys in clean-looking jeans walked in, claimed a pair of beds, then sat there in silence, looking as if a bomb had just exploded inside their heads. I noticed that they still had airline tags on their backpacks.
"Hi," said one of them.
"Peace − er, I mean hi," I said. "You just arrived?"
"You feeling a bit out of it?"
"Jeeeesus," groaned the other one. "It's so hot. I can't believe this. How are you supposed to do anything here?"
"You're not, really. Do nothing. Whatever."
"Right." He looked at me as if I was talking nonsense.
"How long have you been here?" said his friend.
"Oh, long enough. I'm off home in a couple of days."
"Err… yeah. I suppose so."
"What are you reading?"
"A John Grisham thing. I can't remember the title."
"No − I mean, at university. What subject?"
"Oh, right. Um… English."
"York. You on a year off?" I asked, trying to change the subject. I wasn't ready to think about home yet.
"Yeah. We're doing a couple of months here, then hopefully a month in Pakistan, then Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia."
"Bit daunting, actually."
"You'll be fine," I said, thinking that they were certain to get cripplingly ill at some point, not to mention depression, loneliness, despair, robbery, homesickness, and the fact that they'd probably end up hating each other's guts. "You should have a laugh."
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