The World is Our Classroom: Why a Gap Year May Be For You


Havasupai Falls, Arizona

Lindsay Piotter, Photo Editor

Mt. Evans, Colorado

Upon graduating high school, I was constantly asked, “What do you want to do next?”  My teachers, my family and my peers expect the name of some university to roll off my tongue. They want to congratulate me and hear me perform the scripted answers to the typical questions: “What are you studying? Will you join a sorority? Did you receive any scholarships?”

I know the “right” answer to those questions. But neither the questions, nor the answers, appealed to me as much as, “Where to next?” I dreamt of answering with street photography in Europe, backpacking South America, taking a roadtrip across the United States or volunteering on a farm in Hawaii. I’ve spent a large amount of my time in an educational institution, expanding my knowledge in multiple subjects. It’s time to learn more about myself.

“The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost,” a memoir by Rachel Friedman, became a safe haven each time I opened it. Among the pages was a life similar to the one I dreamt of. When Rachel completed undergrad school she explained the pull within her to go on the adventure of a lifetime while her friends settled into their new career.

She makes her way to Ireland for nine months. During her time there, she meets an Australian named Carly, and they became  best friends. My favorite part of the book was when Rachel made her way to Australia to stay with Carly and her family for one year. She inspired me so much, three months ago I purchased a one-way ticket to Melbourne, Australia and will be arriving there in four months, by myself. There are moments I am paralyzed with fear, but more than anything, I am exhilarated with excitement. I can put as much time as I want into planning, but there is no way one can prepare being without everything familiar and comfortable. I will have no one to depend on but myself, and I find this absolutely liberating.

Students all across the globe participate in something known as a “gap year.” A gap year is an amount of time taken off school to work, travel and/or simply explore one’s interests prior to entering a new era of schooling. In Australia, I will devote my time to a road trip or two (or three), exploring cities, beach hopping, volunteering on a farm, and hopefully I’ll eventually land a job with my Working Holiday Visa which allows foreign travellers to stay for up to one year if approved.

Not one gap year looks the same. One person may choose to join a gap year organization, specifically for those looking to travel during their gap year, while others may choose to spend their free time investing themselves in a creative endeavor they’ve put off for awhile.

When making the next steps, whether from high school to college, undergraduate school to graduate school, or school to a career, it is incredibly beneficial to take time off.

In my case, I simply am not entirely sure what studies I want to pursue quite yet. Not only do students deserve a break after devoting a handful of time and focus to school, but there are also numerous ways we can learn that do not include enrolling in school. There is much to be learned from walking the streets of a new city, visiting a library in a different country or falling asleep under the stars.

Mt. Evans, Colorado

On the farm in Victoria, Australia, I will learn how to sow vegetables and care for chickens and calves. Everything we eat will be fresh from the garden. During my entire stay, I will remain open to the Australian culture and allow my perception to change because of it. These experiences come along with an immense depth to them that school cannot teach us, and they are full of experiences and lessons one can take along with them in every aspect of life.

Students may come back from a gap year filled to brim with motivation to go back to school, or maybe they don’t. Either way, they’ve taken the time to get to know themselves and the world a little better. A handful of us feel pressured to pick a path as quickly as we can just to get done with school. I believe in the power of creating your own path. If you are sitting in class daydreaming about what the world has to show you, I suggest asking yourself, “What do I want to do next?”