Taking a break

Sky Swanson (‘14): While most of her current classmates will be purchasing a new duvet, school supplies and settling into their dorm rooms in September, Sky Swanson (’14) will be packing her bags for Rwanda in preparation for five months working for an NGO called Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE).

Swanson has been working with SHE for the past four years during her summers, and thought that this time would be a great opportunity to work more long term for an NGO. SHE works with menstrual and sexual education, and have products such as sanitary products made out of banana fibre.

In the past, Swanson worked on a lobbying effort with the East African legislation to pass a tax waiver on their products, through which she has created a relationship with the Department of Education in Rwanda.

Noting that gap years can be expensive depending on what you do, Swanson believes that they can be a great way to make you remember why you go to school. “A lot of people are really burnt out by the time they finish high school, and have forgotten the reasons why they’re learning and why they’re studying,” Swanson said. “I think that a year off can let you see more value in your education,”

At this point in her life, Swanson believes that it is the best time to take a gap year. She believes that after college people start to focus on accelerating in their fields and that it can be “hard to.”

Omar Elmasry (‘14): Omar Elmasry (’14) has been toying with the idea of a gap year from a young age in order to fulfil his love for snowboarding. Elmasry will be working to achieve his snowboarding instructor license in New Zealand.

Having work experience before university is something he is looking forward to in his upcoming gap year. “I will get work experience before university, I’ll be able to make money before going to university and have all the skills of being a snowboard instructor,” he said. “Also, for a lot of people college is the first time they live without their parents and I’ll get to do that before university, in a different environment.”

Elmasry sees this as real world experience which will benefit him when he goes to college, as well as an opportunity for adventure. “I want to go to places I haven’t been before,” he said. “I want to be able to come back with a lot of stories.”

* Lead features editor Zack Longboy contributed to reporting.

Noa Roedy (‘14): On her last day working at a school in Tanzania during the summer of her junior year, Noa Roedy (‘14) had a shocking realization. “I noticed the lack of good shoes many of the kids had; almost all of their shoes were completely torn apart and breaking from the sole,” Roedy said. In order to provide them with new shoes, Roedy organized a shoe drive, measuring the feet of kids as young as two, and supplying them with new shoes.

After her first trip to Tanzania, Roedy felt drawn to go back and make a bigger impact. This year Roedy will return as part of her gap year. “I feel as though my experience in Tanzania also played a big role as to why I decided to take a gap year,” Roedy said. This time she wanted o do something “a little more permanent or even just simply invest more time and I feel as though a gap year would be the perfect starting point to do that.”

During her gap year, Roedy is hoping to go to East Africa and continue teaching Math and English.

In her junior year, Roedy worked with MTV Staying Alive Foundation, an organization which promotes HIV prevention, as well as safe sex. Roedy hopes to work there again during her gap year in a “senior position” in order to make more of an impact.

Additionally, Roedy is hoping to work with Gavi Alliance, an organisation that  focuses on providing vaccines and immunisations to children under 5 years old in underdeveloped and poor areas.

Maria Blesie (‘13) was one of five students last year to take a gap year. Blesie hoped that a gap year could enhance her college experience. “I thought that maybe I wasn’t quite ready for college and taking [a] gap year would give me some time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and what kind of things I was really passionate about,” she said.

Director of Academic Advising and College Counseling Patty Strohm believes that all students should consider taking a gap year as they are a good way to mature. “Students grow up. Most people learn by doing, and a gap year gives them a chance to learn through their experiences. They go to university much more mature,” Strohm said.

In all of the years Strohm has been working as a college counselor, she’s only known of one college that’s turned down a gap year. With that exception, colleges “love gap years because kids come to college more mature,” Strohm said.

In recent years, the number of students taking a gap year has increased as colleges like students coming more mature and having seen the real world. Even though Blesie had some trouble seeing her friends leave for college, she “would absolutely recommend a gap year to anyone considering it. It teaches you so much, gives you a breather from school and it’s also just a ton of fun.”