Inside the gap year: Paths less taken

While most CHS graduates were deciding what meal plan would be best for them and who their future roommates would be, 2012 grad Mai Lee was doing something different. She was planning her journey to a small impoverished town in Senegal where she would be living and helping teach at a local preschool for eight months.

At the preschool Lee often taught arts and craft and sometimes took over the music class and taught the young children English songs.

“The personal growth I experienced through living with a Senegalese family, learning the local language of Serer, befriending Senegalese teens my age and volunteering at the local schools was more valuable than the actual work itself,” Lee says.

She had such a great experience that her younger sister, CHS senior Yui Lee, is going to Ecuador through the same program next year.

“I was puzzled when students [at CHS] would come up to me and say, ‘Wow, that’s awesome! I wish I could do that,’” Mai Lee says. “I think everyone can do it.”

Although gap years aren’t the typical route post-graduation, roughly five CHS grads every year take a gap year to either volunteer or work for a year with the intent of saving up money for a four-year school, according to CHS counselor Jeff Schatz.

“Usually students who aren’t sure of what they want to do and what they want to study just figure why jump right into school and pay all that money and try to figure it out,” Schatz explains.

Senior Sam Gumberg, similarly to Yui Lee, is taking a path less traveled. He hopes to gain discipline by entering into the Israeli Defense Force for 18 months with roughly 100 other Jewish-American men.

“I think part of the interesting thing is just being away for that long,” Gumberg says. “It’s just like starting over. It’s going to be new.”

2011 CHS graduate Emily Robinson felt similar to Gumberg when deciding to go Honduras to work on a project called Niños de la Luz. Her goal? Do something that was completely new, something that scared her. And she achieved this goal through teaching Spanish speaking students English…while knowing no Spanish.

Other students, however, take a year off to help save money to pay their way through college, Schatz says.

Olivia Doskey-Mulvaney plans to spend a year in the New York. No, not to party it up in the Big Apple, but to gain residency and also save up money to pay for the State University of New York in Oswego.

Carmel’s counselors don’t specifically encourage students to take gap years, but if seniors do decide they are taking a gap year the counselors are supportive of their decisions, although it can be a risky choice.

“Not everybody that wants to get to college in a year gets to college in a year,” Schatz says.

But he also believes that the likelihood of this happening is lowers when students join structured gap year programs and take the proper steps to apply to a four-year school the following year.

“I think it’s great to take a gap year,” Schatz says. “Personally, I think it’s just a great time to grow and stand back and take stock of who you are. Parents are mostly afraid of the colleges’ views of students who have taken a gap year… I think I can do well to alleviate those concerns.”

-Helaine Ridilla