You came into Yale with no previous college experience and with preconceived ideas about what Yale is and how you fit into it. It’s been a year now, maybe two, and your conceptions of Yale and yourself have changed. Making shifts in your lifestyle to accommodate those changes can require stepping back, exploring this new sense of self and figuring out how your newfound understanding of Yale fits into the greater narrative of your life. Taking time off provides an opportunity for re-centering yourself and thinking critically about your role inside and outside of Yale. While there are barriers to taking time off, if you are willing to break those barriers, you will find that being away from Yale vastly improves the experience of being at Yale.
The first barrier that students often face in deciding whether or not to take time off is figuring out what they would do. It’s a daunting decision, because once you decide to break out of this system you’ve so masterfully navigated up until this point, you could do anything. Think about the new interests you’ve developed but don’t have time to study formally. Talk to an upperclassman about how they spent their time off. Independent travel, knocking out your ultimate reading list, joining the workforce back home, going out west to work at a ranch — the important thing is breaking from the routine.
There are also financial decisions that must be made before taking a leave of absence. Many Yale students face the reality that upon graduation, they will be their family’s primary financial provider. In this sense, graduating later than planned is in itself a financial privilege. However, many of the benefits of taking time off can also be attained through studying abroad for credit, so long as the program is flexible and provides relatively independent living conditions. If you have taken out loans, you will want to research the conditions of your loan and available repayment plans. As for funding your time away, grab a beverage of your choice, settle in for the night and start digging through the Student Grants Database. For first years and sophomores looking to live and work independently abroad, I recommend the Thomas C. Barry Travel Fellowship.
If you come from a family that views education as primarily vocational or a community where a college education is seldom attained, taking time off is not a familiar concept. When you say “taking time off,” they hear “never going back.” This might be the first time that your vision for your future diverges from that of your loved ones, which can be discouraging. However, it certainly won’t be the last time this happens, and this can be used as an opportunity to engage in an open, thoughtful discussion about why this is important to you.
The final barrier, and oftentimes the most difficult for students to hurtle, is defeating the great fear of missing out monster that rears its ugly head when you imagine all your friends gathered together, carrying on with life as usual, while your seat at the table remains empty. This image is terrifying, and it is hardly the reality. There are people you will miss while you are gone, and there are people who will miss you. But there are even more people you won’t miss while you’re gone and even more that will never notice you left. You’ll be welcomed back to Yale with open arms by the friends and communities that matter and find that you treat those relationships with a deeper sense of gratitude and intention, because even in your physical absence, they remained intact.
In her interview with the News, professor Laurie Santos says that what frustrates her most about Yale students is that they waste their time here by filling their days with “stuff” and never take time to process and enjoy it. Taking time off provides that time and space to process your experience from a new perspective: your new perspective.
Your time at Yale is fleeting, but the values and habits that you develop here are not, so it’s critical to step back and be cognizant of what kind of life you want to lead. In taking time off, you not only have time to sort out which of your commitments at Yale you find most valuable but also break the inertia that would otherwise keep you from dropping past obligations and exploring the activities that align with your changing interests.
You’ll miss the workload and return with the bright-eyed eagerness of a first year, but with a leveled grasp of how this place works. Having gained insight on where the value of your social and educational experience lies, you return to Yale, strip away the “stuff” and get to the heart of what it means to live a good life on this campus.
Arizona Greene is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .