by Reid Johnson, class of 2015
Last year I graduated from MHS. At the start of August, a few weeks before most of my friends started packing their belongings for college, I began stuffing some clothes, books, and notebooks into a backpack—the backpack from which I’d live out of for the next twelve months. Nine months ago I began a gap year, deferring my admission to the U of M to give myself a little time to do whatever I saw fit… a little adventure in between two big blocks of education.
I looked at the big future-college collage outside of the media center last June. Out of the roughly 700 kids who graduated with me only eight were under the label ‘gap year.’ So deferring college is not the norm. But the coolest things in life never are the norm anyway. Writing as a former MHS student, I know how our status-quo culture expects kids to move as a herd rather blindly down the path out the doors of high school directly onto the campus of a college.
I did not consider a gap year as being a legitimate option for me until about the start of my junior year. But even then I had no idea how to go about it, my perception being that all kids who do this type of thing had previous connections, clear goals, and specific expectations before taking action. Because no one, well-marked route exists I thought it was rather inconceivable that I could do something so daring. A good way to start is asking for a sheet in the College and Career Center and googling volunteer/intern programs or sweet places to travel. In Europe, gap years are much, much more common than in Minnetonka. People are doing this, and they are having the experiences of lifetimes.
Each person is unique, and each person should deliberately make unique choices depending on their personal passions… so for sure gap years are not the best choice for everyone, but gap years can/should be considered as a real and reachable path.
The freedom is huge. Education is fantastic, but it demands more time than a ¾-time job. Without a school schedule I’ve rediscovered the lost art of free reading, worked on a little novel, researched what I’m interested in, all on my own time through my own motivation. I’m not special, but I think it is a special chance for a 19 year-old to have so much personal time to devote to developing the way I work. Passion is something worth finding and cultivating, and gap years give us the chance to find the time that system-based education doesn’t provide.
Right now I’m writing this blog snippet sitting in the jungle of southeastern Peru. There is a pet monkey making faces at me from across the hallway and currently it is a little hard to concentrate while flocks of macaws and a stunning sunset slip past outside my screen door. It is a crazy neat deal being in the ‘real world’ traveling alone, walking into a hotel to book a room for the night, buying a plane ticket, crossing a national border, bartering for lunch at a market in rural Colombia. For the first time I am in a situation where I can take full control of my choices and full responsibility for their consequences. It is sometimes scary, potentially dangerous, often lonely, completely unpredictable, and always an adventure.
A market in Huancayo, a mountain city of Peru
For six months I taught English in a small Christian school in a gang controlled community of Tegucigalpa, Honduras as a missionary. For the last few months I have traveled solo around South America. Before this year I did not know the alphabet nor the colors in Spanish, and now I am able to have pretty natural conversations and translate for missionary groups. I’m not special, and I am not a courageous person (the hardest part even now is working up my nerve to talk to a stranger). I am simply convinced that the quickest way to learn, and the realest way to live, is to jump in, sink or swim style.
I think taking a gap year was a spectacular decision. I’m not selling anything, I just get excited about finding opportunities like these and so I’m passing on my story to you. Get out there, make memories, and make an impact.