Millennials are becoming more and more prone to taking a step back before buying into the “pressures” that universities can exert. Many students have confidence in why they are on campus studying, but others would rather figure it out through hands-on experience before accumulating college debt. Both resolutions are viable. According to the Gap Year Association, attendance of Gap Year fairs has increased 294 percent since 2010. Why is this?
Not only is our world more accessible than it was 30 years ago, but experience has become a seemingly greater hunger in the bellies of young adults. Rather than be told about Japan in geography class, American students would prefer to visit themselves. This hunger is fed by the rise of many world traveling organizations suited for young people. Whether it be a work-study, internship or volunteer program, there seems to be something suited for everybody but the homebody.
As for me, I have never been a homebody, and here is my story. I am a current sophomore at Hope College at age twenty-three. I decided to take a gap year at age eighteen, deferring my acceptance to Hope College. I moved from my high school classroom to Thailand. After teaching English in schools and living in a Christian community outside of Bangkok, my worldview slowly began to turn. Not everything was about me anymore. After getting deported from Thailand, due to visa issues, I stayed in Cambodia for a short while. My eyes were fixated on the state of the village I remained in for close to a month. The recent genocide had detrimental effects on the villagers, and many were tortured by starvation. From Cambodia, I moved to South Africa for a three-month period. There, I lived in a segregated community that was considered to be the slums of Cape Town. It was there that my worldview changed forever. God gripped my heart for children and families impacted by violence. It was there that I realized I had made the best decision of my life.
After half a year of volunteer service, I decided to come home, thinking my gap year had come to an end. Lansing was home to me at the time, and the public-school system had captured my heart. It was the children once again. My community grew from an urban church in Lansing, and one gap year turned into two. After my second gap year of serving in ministry and working, I still felt a call to missions. I took off for a Christian missions school called Youth With a Mission in Kona, Hawaii. From Kona, I went on outreach to work with local missionaries in Uganda. During my time in Uganda, I once again grew to see the world through a lens other than my own. For close to two months, I lived near the border of South Sudan and the Congo. I stayed with families that had been recently broken, lost everything, or ambushed by the civil war happening in the bordering regions. The cry I heard from the people of South Sudan became my cry. I adopted the broken hearts of the ones around me.
I returned home after my third gap year, feeling led to return to my education. I had confidence after my experiences that I knew what I cared about, what broke my heart and what I wanted to change in the world. I had a sense of purpose greater than I could give myself, one that God had revealed to me. It is essential that we answer the call on our lives, whether it’s for college or a gap year. One is not better than another, but both are valuable and should be highly regarded.
If this is you in any way and you feel a gap year would suit you well, do not be afraid. One can turn into three, but it’s not always the worst thing. You will begin to understand the world around you with a raw heart instead of just hearing about it second-hand. There is often a stigma attached to gap year programs, that it’s an “opt-out” or a “resolution for the dummies.” It’s the opposite, actually. I see it as an “opt-in” and a move of wisdom. Depending on what you do with your gap year, it can be a choice to invest in the lives of others and an opportunity to gain a tender heart for the world. Knowledge comes many ways. Experience is one of them. As gap years are on the rise around the world, a Hope College student is not denied from participating. Whether it be during or after your college education, it could do wonders for your future. Although it can be financially difficult to take a gap year, or three, there are many scholarships available through gap year programs or work-studies.