A different kind of education

A different kind of education

It may seem daunting and economically impossible to defer college for a year to travel, but a gap year is an obtainable and empowering after-high-school possibility.

BELLOWS FALLS — For high school seniors, returning from vacation for the last year isn't the only thing on their minds. Instead, they're contemplating the course of their future.

Seniors have been prepped and preened for graduation and, customarily, college. While this next step is exciting, figuring out what to do after high school can sometimes seem like a choice that will dictate your entire future.

So if it feels like you suddenly have to have the answer for everything, relax, take a step back, and remember that it's OK not to have any clue about what you want to do.

A few people possess a natural calling and see a clear path and future for themselves. If you are among the others who have a difficult time figuring out a next course of action, the first step to figuring out what you want to do is to get to know yourself as an individual, separate from knowing yourself as a student.

That is why another viable post-high school opportunity is taking a gap year - a year between high school and college.

A gap year offers complete freedom to choose your path, explore the world, and get to know yourself while doing so. Traveling, especially by yourself, will put you out of your comfort zone in a way that school does not.

This is by no means to say that college isn't challenging, only that it is a different kind of challenge. By taking a year to travel, not only can you learn how to be completely independent, you also learn more about the world around you and all of the potential paths you could take.

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I decided to take a gap year for a few reasons: I felt unsure of what I wanted out of my college experience, I was unenthralled by the majority of my college choices, and perhaps most of all, I felt extremely restless after 12 years of schooling.

I was conflicted; It was difficult to choose a path that would isolate me from the majority of my friends and classmates. I also struggled with the subtly ingrained concept that not going to college right after high school meant failure.

Now, as I prepare to attend college in the fall, I know that if I had chosen to go straight from high school without taking some time to myself, I would have been unfocused and unfulfilled.

The whole application process had made me feel like nothing more than a bunch of numbers and a list of extracurriculars and school awards - a proverbial ticket thrown into the college raffle. I felt as if I didn't have control over my application, because no matter how many activities I did or how good my grades were, when all was said and done, the application was just a snapshot of my abilities, not the whole picture.

Ultimately, I didn't feel completely motivated, and I decided to take my gap year. I did so not long before college decision deadlines, so I learned that you can still plan for such a year without a huge amount of time.

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I decided to spend the first couple of months traveling with a friend and the rest of the year by myself. I worked as much as I could over the summer and researched various methods of cheap travel.

I ultimately chose an online travel community, Workaway, where hotel owners, farms, other business owners, and individuals can create a vetted host profile, and travelers can request to come work in exchange for accommodation and meals.

Similar to the more widely known online network, WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), Workaway is a great opportunity to travel on a budget and become integrated into the culture of whatever part of the world you travel to.

Through Workaway, I have traveled through Canada, the western United States, and through Europe. I have worked at a wide variety of places: on a farm in the California deserts, hotels on islands and in French cities, an old stone farmhouse in the mountains of Tuscany, and a small castle in France.

I have had many great experiences and my fair share of bad ones, but either way, they have always been educational and enlightening.

I highly recommend solo travel to all emerging high school graduates, but especially to those who feel unsure of what kind of future they desire. It may seem daunting and economically impossible to take a year to travel, but if you work hard, save money, do some research, and practice financial responsibility, it is an obtainable and empowering after-high-school possibility.

Many different kinds of education are out there, and the infinite opportunities can make the whole process overwhelming. By taking some time to simply go out and learn more about the world, you can learn about yourself and how you fit into it. No matter what, each path leads onward, even if the destination isn't clear yet.

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