A month ago, I was asked to take a gap year by the admissions committee. It wasn’t by choice; I wasn’t seeking a year off. I wanted to jump right into college and take part in everything my would-be classmates are today experiencing. The gap year was imposed on me — due to certain circumstances, I had fared poorly in my final high school exams.
During the last month, I’ve led a fairly monotonous life. I’ve spent most of my time studying, occasionally speaking on the phone to my dear ones and going out for dinner twice with my family. I met just one friend in all of August, but I have grown to love this lifestyle. That’s because I’ve come to discover the best-kept secrets of the gap year: solitude and stillness.
For a while now, every night after I finish studying, I’ve lain down, listened to Western classical music (until now I had never bothered with Chopin’s Nocturnes) and stared into the air. An onlooker would mistake it for dreaminess. But I’m engaged and my mind is working. My thoughts are shifting from one paradigm to the other. Sometimes I am self-critical, sometimes I think of the struggles of great men and sometimes I smirk at the little ironies around me, like my mother’s strict orders to kill any bug seen in the house even though she demands that we respect the delicacy of our plants. I’m also the last one at home to sleep, and naturally, I am the last one to rise, when the house is again empty. I see no sadness in this solitude. I see a time of cultivation.
In our last two years of high school, as we take on larger academic loads and assume more responsibilities, we tend to focus on the tasks immediately ahead of us. The coming exam, the coming event, the coming game, the coming semester — we become confined to a microcosm of our high school lives and our immediate college futures. It occupies our minds, whether we like it or not. That was the case with most of my peers and I, and I’ve only realized it now, amidst my silence. We always said to ourselves, “What’s next?” We never had the opportunity to say to ourselves, “I have absolutely nothing to do.”
This gap year has only begun, and I have begun to realize what lies ahead. The gap year isn’t a time of discovering the world. It is really an inward journey. I want to let my mind wander into questions I had never posed before, about the world and myself. This is my time to seek answers from myself, on questions that concern me and the world beyond.
Perhaps this is what volunteers in the developing world, backpackers across continents or those in most other gap year programs learn in their time. Amidst their activities, they are on their own island of thought, away from the lives they have adapted to. Gap year advocates give a strong emphasis on how much you can do, but not on how much you can think for yourself, the world and your role in it. It is a time to think about the larger and the smaller currents that are flowing around our own worlds. This is never something advertised or promoted; it is indeed difficult to express this feeling. Research on gap years is presented to us quantitatively: with x percent of students obtaining y benefit.
Yet development of thought within one’s own self cannot be quantified; it has many dimensions, unique in as many ways as each of us think. To many of us, the idea of developing newer skills, learning new cultures and adapting across different environments is not as attractive as engaging ourselves in a university environment, taking challenging academic courses, making new friends or simply beginning a new chapter of our lives. I too gave greater weight to these prospects, but I never realized that my mind had the opportunity to emerge more relaxed and engaged with my own thoughts in its relative solitude.
Because I’m studying for exams, I have renounced television, video games and reduced my social media presence to the occasional conversation. My need to study caters to my self-imposed isolation. This gap year came upon me through faults of mine, but I am beginning to feel grateful. After my exams in November, I am weighing different options of what I can do, but regardless of what it is, I’m confident in the coming year. Perhaps I will become smarter, more creative or develop some handy skill.
But I know — for certain — that I will be able to cultivate my thinking and open my mind to new trains of thought. I’ve come to gather that being alone on an island isn’t so bad. So to the dear freshmen who would have been my classmates, I admit you can never not love a place like Yale, but surely there is nothing wrong in falling in love just a year later.
Rahul Srivastava is currently taking a gap year before enrolling at Yale. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.