Most of Washington and Lee University's first-year students are matriculating right out of high school. But two of them, Rosalie Bull, of Dallas, Texas, and Ian Treger, of Lexington, Virginia, chose to take a gap year before starting college.
Far from taking time off from their education, both lived abroad to learn about a different culture and to learn something about themselves.
Rosalie, as part of the Global Citizen Year Program, lived with a family in the Pastaza region of Ecuador, a part of the Amazon rainforest. She was an apprentice at Parque Botánico Los Yapas, a non-profit organization created by a group of agronomists, biologists and a computer engineer interested in nature conservation. The park works on several projects including reforestation, an orquidarium, endemic palm-tree planting, an organic farm, medicinal plants and essential oil distillation.
"I was interested in doing a gap year because I wanted to be intentional with my education and with life in general," she said. "College is one of the first big decisions we make as adults, yet it is usually not one we make of our own accord. College is a kick-butt opportunity, and I wanted to make sure that I was doing it for myself. More than anything, I wanted to see the world and widen my perspective before deciding what to do with my life."
At the moment, Rosalie is interested in anthropology and the Shepherd Poverty Program. Her year abroad "gave me a new sense of wonder. It's like the saying, ‘The more you know, the more you know you don't know.' The world is so much bigger and so much more complex than I'd ever let myself imagine it to be. It turned my life into an exploration of people's stories, and I hope I never lose that."
She wrote about her experiences on the Global Citizen Year website.
Ian spent the year in Bonn, Germany, attending a German high school because, he said, "I wanted to let myself become a more mature person before starting college. I also wanted to travel and to learn German."
He added, "Taking a gap year also revealed certain interests that I didn't know I had, especially my interest in languages. Learning German helped my concentration, and living abroad made me independent and able to rely on myself. I'm interested in studying history, German and French at W&L, but there are also many other courses that interest me."
In his blog, Ian summed up his experience: "It was difficult to come here. A new country, language and people at first made me hesitant. After six months, something clicked, and my German improved immensely, and, as a result, I gained confidence and became more open. I started speaking with everyone and expanding the circle of people I spent time with. Somehow I went from being an exchange student in the first six months, to being something more for the last few. I look at my life in Germany now, today, and there's nothing negative I can find."
-Louise Uffelman | email@example.com