As we head into winter break, many of you will undoubtedly spend time agonizing over what to do over the summer. You will think about the kind of experience you want, what skills you hope to develop, what funding to apply for, what might help your longer-term career ambitions. But few of you will consider options lasting longer than 12 weeks.
We tend to think of gap years as a pre- or post-college option; few of us see them as a possibility for our intra-college years. A major reason for this is the assumption that time off during college is for addressing serious mental health, medical, family or other personal issues. When I informed people that I was taking a year off from Yale, many responded with immediate concern: “Are you okay?” Related to this is the stigma associated with taking more than four years to graduate.
But taking time off doesn’t have to be involuntary. It can combine reasons for needing to leave with reasons for wanting to leave; it can also be a choice. And this choice should be a more regular part of our collegiate lexicon, just as study abroad, going to The Game and even Woads are.
Reasons for taking a gap year are numerous and diverse. Perhaps you don’t know what you want post-Yale and do not feel ready to enter the junior fall recruiting season. Or perhaps you are interested in a region of the world on which Yale doesn’t offer much coursework. Or perhaps you are simply tired of only doing things because people expect you to do them, not because you actually want to.
Perhaps, like me, you feel all of these. I’ve had so many conversations with people in which, once I explained my reasons for taking a gap year, they started nodding along, saying that they felt similarly. The issue is that we don’t typically see gap years as potential solutions to these problems, even though it’s a financially accessible option because Yale is unique in offering funding.
Not only is a gap year a chance to address the issues we experience during our time at Yale, but it is also a chance to look and learn beyond Yale. Most of us are quick to recognize the Yale bubble, and gap years are an opportunity to push yourself outside of it.
Since arriving in Indonesia in September, I have been pushed to think in ways that Yale had never asked me to. I’ve been an agro-tourism developer, freelance graphic designer for Southeast Asian nongovernmental organizations and translator and storyteller for an archaeology museum. But more importantly, by living in a society so foreign to what I grew up with, I have had innumerable realizations of my own ignorance. Speaking with everyone from village bureaucrats to veterinarians has forced me to examine my perceptions of achievement culture, oppression, colonialism and my own liberalism in ways that interactions with people at Yale, no matter how diverse our campus is, do not ask of me. In Bali, I’m learning about a fundamentally different understanding of how the world works. This requires me to unlearn so much that I took to be universal, which is a difficult and humbling task.
When I first started thinking about taking a year off, I told my father, a professor, that if he got to take sabbaticals, then I did, too. I was joking then, but I’m serious now. There is so much to learn during your time away and the most exciting part is figuring out how to apply it all upon your return. Although I have yet to reach the halfway point of my gap year, I can still unequivocally say that choosing to not be at Yale this year has ironically been the best decision of my time at Yale. I also have yet to meet anyone who regrets their time off.
So, when you go home for winter break and reflect on your semester, think longer-term about what you want from Yale as a whole and whether a gap year fits into that. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Lisa Qian is a junior in Silliman College and a former Production and Design editor for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .