Education comes in many forms, service work and travel are options worth considering, according to Kahrie Stegman of Pratt High School.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved to travel. Even for a simple Sunday excursion or trip to see family, I have loved getting away from my everyday life to see something I didn’t get to see everyday. I think nearly everyone can say the same about their childhood, but many high school students don’t realize that travel is within reach right after high school.
While many of my classmates will be heading to college this fall, I will be taking a different route. This fall, I will be moving to Spain and Peru for a gap year. In Spain, I will be working on improving my piano and other skills, and in Peru, I will be working in an orphanage.
When I was a junior, I knew my college decision had to be made soon. I knew I needed to start making some decisions, but I had no idea where to start. Not only did I not know where to go to college, I also had no idea what I wanted to study. I was scared that I would decide on a college and major only to change my mind and to waste thousands of dollars on an education I wouldn’t even use after college. While on my college search, I came across a gap year program online. I looked into it and didn’t think that particular program was what I wanted to do, but intrigued by the idea, I looked into gap years some more. I found all of the benefits and felt a sense of relief knowing that a year of self discovery and travel was a possibility for me. After extensive persuasion for my parents, my mom and I started to look at different programs, and I finally found a program called Love Volunteers where I could work in an orphanage and have free time to explore the city of Cusco. After talking to a woman from my church, she told me that she had a friend in Spain who had wanted someone to live with her to teach her young son English. Everything fell into place better than I expected it to. During my gap year, I will struggle in different ways than I have before. I will be by myself, meaning I won’t have met anyone I will be living with in person before I fly to my destinations. Particularly in Peru, I will be forced to speak fluent Spanish, since none of the kids I will be serving will know any English.
Since I am a high school senior, I have been asked ‘the question’ more times than I can count. People ask where I’m going to college next year probably because they assume that’s where a student like me will go. In telling people about my gap year, some people are surprised, and some are more supportive than others. I’ve found that most people hear about a gap year for the first time from me, but gap years don’t always look like mine will. In fact, a gap year doesn’t have to be leaving the country at all. These years can be spent doing anything, even working to save up money for college.
Gap year researcher Karl Haigler found that the top two reasons people choose to take gap years before entering college are: burnout from the competitive nature of high school, and to find out more about themselves. These are two of the reasons I am deciding to take a gap year.
Travel researchers have also found that travel helps people better understand who they are as a person.
In an article by Hajo Adam, Otilia Obodaru, Jackson G. Lu, William Maddux, and Adam Galinsky called “How Living Abroad Helps You Develop a Clearer Sense of Self,” the authors all used their own experiences and research to emphasize the need for travel in our world. In their research, they have found that travel and living abroad may be connected to psychological well-being, the ability to cope with stress, and job performance.
By getting away from the familiarity of small town Kansas, I know I will be exposed to new cultures that will broaden my horizons and open my eyes to other ways of life. In turn, I will learn more about myself and what career path I want to take.
I hope as more classes graduate Pratt High School, students will think about the option of a gap year for themselves to cultivate a community of open mindedness and unconventional education. Life is the best teacher.