“So what are your plans after graduation?”
I began to hear this question before I even considered attending high school in Austria. It’s such a hard one to answer – hell, I barely even know what I’m doing tomorrow.
Where I’m from, it’s very common to respond to this question with, “I’m planning on going to (insert name of prestigious, reputable university).”
While attending a great university is a good thing, at times that answer felt so… predictable.
When I told people I was planning on doing a gap year, I got a plethora of reasons why I shouldn’t:
I replied with a simple “no” every time. I know that I will go to some sort of college one day, perhaps not immediately upon returning to the States, but I am a strong believer in educational self-growth. For now, I’m pursuing a different form of my beliefs, as I’m gaining a whole new knowledge of the world that can’t necessarily be gained from a lecture.
I can’t get mad at those who question my choice to study abroad. I say this because Americans tend to be brainwashed into thinking there is only one right way of doing things: go to college, graduate, get a well-paying job, and hustle our butts off to pay off the mountain of debt that we acquired just to get that well-paying job.
I was alienated for choosing an alternative path. At first, I felt shameful and started second-guessing everything once I saw all of my friends’ hyped Snapchat stories, or scrolled through countless images of frat parties on Instagram. All I could think was, Did I make the right decision? or Should I have gone to university? As my friend Meghan once put it, I had a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
Already within two months of being here, I’ve dealt with so much change that I would not have experienced if I went to college right away. I am not book smart, so quite honestly I do not think I would have been able to deal with university successfully at this point in my life.
I should stress that taking a gap year isn’t some easy way out of going to university. No matter what you decide to do within your time off, you will deal with certain challenges that pertain to your situation. For me, my first couple months here have been particularly challenging. From paying my phone bill to buying my own bus pass (yes, they are pretty pricey), it’s been a very enlightening experience that has provided me with a swift transition into adulthood.
It also can be pretty lonely without the company of my friends from home. I most definitely do not have any sort of problem with the people I’ve met here, but I immediately could tell that there were already set cliques within the students at my new high school, as most of them have been in the same class with each other for eight years. I’ve learned to deal with the isolation by developing better communication skills and being more assertive, and all of which are new abilities that I can bring back home to the States.
Taking a gap year is all about trial and error. Learning from real life experiences is an interesting and mind-opening way of life. Whether it’s going abroad or getting a job right after high school, I want to stress that it is okay to go against the current that is college. Education is not a race – it does not matter if your friends finish first.
Know what is best for you and your mental health. Do not let people try to force you to believe otherwise. It is perfectly acceptable to take some time off to find yourself ,and to discover your purpose on this huge ,yet tiny, planet.
My college is not a building – it is made of the high mountains, beautiful lakes, and diverse tongues.