This column was started last year, but not with a proper introduction. In creating ‘Where in the World?’, I wanted to have a place with a consistent international focus as it relates to CHS Jaguars. This may manifest itself in many ways. Some of our graduates have taken gap years and every year, I have students who seek advice, guidance and connections on how to make this a reality for them. Some of our students come from outside the US. We have exchange programs to France and the Dominican Republic and service trips to Ecuador and Nicaragua. Perhaps you want to travel internationally, but don’t know how to do it in an affordable way. Maybe you would like to volunteer somewhere, but are not sure how to go about doing that.
If you do decide you want to take a gap year after graduation, I would strongly encourage you to make sure you have a plan for afterwards and do as much of the organizing prior to leaving. You want to be able to focus on where you are, rather than be sorting out things on a continual basis. If the plan is to go to a college or university after graduation, then apply, get accepted and then see about how to defer for a year. If you have extensive scholarships that will be lost if you take a gap year, then it will probably not be worth it.
Taking a gap year does not have to be expensive. There are many organizations that one can do all the organizing for you, but some of them are more about making a profit from those wishing to travel abroad. If you are hoping to go to several places, then do as much research as possible before. Relative easy access to the internet is not a given. Talk with others who have taken gap years. They are a wealth of information. If you would to speak to me about ideas, then feel free to contact me.
Interview with 2016 CHS Graduate Lauren Bartek prior to her leaving for her gap year. I will do a follow up when she is in the midst of her gap year.
What inspired you to take a gap year?
Growing up I felt like GAP years were stigmatized in the community I lived in as a break that people would only take if they didn’t know what they wanted and often lead to never going back to school. While GAP years are great if you don’t know what you want yet, many driven people have chosen that path and it has recently gained popularity in America. I first started to think of a GAP year as a potential future for myself at the end of my freshman year of high school when my friend and former president of Carrboro High School, Kristen Lee, broke this stereotype. She had the option to go to college right away but instead decided to participate in the Global Citizen GAP year where she traveled to South America to stay with local families and volunteer. I have always wanted to learn about other parts of the world and was intrigued by her choice. Over the rest of my high school career I watched many other friends take the GAP year route. The idea stayed in the back of my mind as I applied to universities. I was waiting to find a college that I was super passionate about but never really did and instead felt super burnt out. At the same time I was following Leah Simon and Katie Caruso’s GAP year adventures traveling the world on social media and realized this was definitely the right path for me.
Who else (if anyone) do you know who has taken a gap year?
I knew Kristen Lee, Alice Brower, and Bri Merrigan from our Carrboro lacrosse team. All of them spent their GAP years with programs volunteering in South America. Katie Caruso and Leah Simon I knew first as mutual friends and are a grade above me. Both took a year off and made their own travel plans without the help of a program. In addition, Laney Peterman, who started at the University of Chicago this past year, decided to take off this year to travel. I will hopefully be meeting up with her in Thailand in January. In my grade I am in touch with Oskar Hutchinson is spending time with a program in Japan, and Monica Herrera is taking a year off to work in Chapel Hill.
Where outside the U.S. have you visited, if anywhere, and for how long and in what context?
I have actually never been outside of the U.S.!
Where all do you plan to go & what do you plan to do whilst there?
I will start my trip in Kathmandu, Nepal, during October and November. I will first be staying with a family from my church who is currently living there now and helping the wife start a clothing business for Nepali women. I also plan on backpacking either the Mount Everest Base Camp Trek or the Annapurna Circuit with a group for about two weeks. In addition I will be staying with a local Nepali family, and volunteering for a host with Workaway. In the beginning of December I will fly to Bangkok, Thailand, and stay with W’wan who was an exchange student at Carrboro High School last year. After a few days I will take a bus up to Phop Phra which is in Northern Thailand where a Migrant Learning Centre that predominantly houses Karen refugees called Thoo Mweh Khee is located. I will be volunteering at Thoo Mweh Khee as an English and art teacher for refugees while also living in their community. In late January I then hope to meet up with Laney Peterman and backpack through Thailand exploring some of their cultural landmarks. Finally, I will finish my trip visiting Greece in March and April. During that time I will likely be staying with organizations like US Servas, Workaway, or Wwoofing but I am still finalizing plans.
What is your budget?
I am starting my trip with $6,000 for 7 months. This doesn’t include all of the preparation trip expenses which were altogether about $1,000. The majority of the money for my trip came from the jobs I worked this past summer and graduation money. I was also very fortunate to have money donated to me for my trip and my parents contribute to the trip preparation expenses.
What do you hope to get out of the gap year?
I hope to learn, both about myself and our world. Coming straight out of high school I was not ready to take full advantage of everything that college has to offer because I was so burnt out and did not know myself enough. I think that by experiencing new cultures and people you learn more about yourself in contrast. You gain fuller perspectives and learn what other people believe, and in turn what you do and don’t agree with. After traveling abroad and seeing alternative ways to live I think I will have a better understand of what I want in life, and know what to say yes/no to in college. Additionally I hope to come into school prepared to work hard after seeing how lucky I am to have the opportunity to go to school by working with others who dream about that opportunity.
Relationships are also a part of my trip that I look forward to. I hope to make connections with the people I stay with that will last a lifetime. I would love to be able to visit my new friends again after my trip and continue the lifestyle of travel. I also hope that I can actually make a difference in the lives of the refugees that I work with and help give them the tools they need.
Finally I hope this trip puts me out of my comfort zone. I think that is the time that you grow as a person the most. I often struggle with expectations for myself and whatever I am doing. This trip will challenge me to be in the moment and deal with changes to my plans. I think the unexpected experiences are the best gifts to life and I hope to go on a lot of last minute adventures.
What research or preparation have you done?
I began preparing for this trip in May right after I decided to go to NC State. I first started saving money and I created a gofundme account. After that the major things that had to be taken care of were getting travel documents, making sure my health care was taken care of, finding a phone plan, and gathering supplies. Every step of the way I had to do research from booking a plane flight, to buying a sleeping bag, to selecting travel insurance just because these were things I had never done before and did not have a travel agent. I also talked to many GAP year veterans to get a more personal take on the countries and organizations I was considering. Most of my GAP year work has seemed invisible because it has been going back and forth between people, making plans, and learning a lot of background information.
What worries or concerns do you have about the gap year?
Well I guess there is the obvious safety concern. My parents were not on board with my plans right away because they were worried about my safety abroad and I got many comments like “so and so would never let their kids do that” or “stay safe” as I told people about my year. But I think if anything I will find that the world is more open and safe than I originally thought, if you are smart. I also have not finished putting all of my plans together for the trip like smaller details such as places to visit and stay, so I hope that I am not distracted from whatever I am currently doing due to finalizing plans. But honestly I think everything will work out and I am not too worried about these concerns.
Include anything I didn’t ask, but which you feel is important to know.
It has been amazing how willing people have been to help me out during this whole process. So many more people than I expected have traveled and want to help others to do the same. Shout out to John Hite! He played a huge role in helping me to decide to take a GAP year, connected me to so many people, and made sure I had help every step of the way.
My advice. Don’t overhype college and get stressed out about it like I did! College is not for everyone right away and community college is a great thing. You will end up where you belong.
Illustration courtesy http://stephendpalmer.com/