I was really pleased to hear Tufts University’s announcement that they will become offering a funded gap season program for students. As somebody who deferred college for a year to go to a Youth For Understanding (YFU) program in Belgium and benefitted enormously from the experience, I’ve never ever understood why more U. S i9000. students don’t take gap many years.
While many students can not afford it, which makes Tufts plan to pay students to go abroad all the more exciting, students whose families have the financial means also choose not to go. When I’ve talked to students who are interested in international politics, cultures outside of the U. S., and foreign languages—students who I would think would be very interested in learning more about another country by immersing them selves in the culture—they often say that these people don’t want to be “behind. ” I think this means they feel that as their colleagues go off to college and start on the following phase of their lives, they will for some reason be left out of that very important experience.
Which brings me personally to my own experience. After arranging for a year abroad, I placed on my colleges of choice with the intent to defer. Some members of my loved ones expressed the concern that this was the wrong thing to do and that colleges wouldn’t like it. So I asked every college admission counselor I encountered what they thought of a gap year. “Great concept! ” they said. “If you get one now, we know you’ll be equipped for college when you come to us following fall. ” “We love what students who have studied abroad will bring to the campus! ” In other words, these were all for it. When I received our acceptances , I actually chose my college, sent in our deposit and requested that our admission be deferred for one season. The answer was a prompt yes, and on July 10th, 1986 I got on the plane and flew from LAX to Brussels.
In Santa Monica, where I was raised, I enjoyed the life of a very large city. As a family with three children, we were larger than most of the families I knew. In Belgium, I actually lived in a very small town, connected to Namur, the closest city, by the country’s great train system. Our host family had seven kids, five of whom were nevertheless living at home, though all but 2 were over 18. The family was very traditional. The father worked outside of the home. The mother, who had remained home with her children, got care of other families’ small children since her own were mostly grown. It was a more traditional way of life than I had actually seen outside of novels.
While in Belgium, I attended a small Catholic school. Because I did not need these credits to graduate, I really could double up on history and literary works classes while taking a geography class, all taught from the most European point of view possible. While I’d been excited to learn how to speak French fluently, and did so , I was frequently and pleasantly surprised by the Belgian see of the world. As a small nation that could be conquered in three hours, their conception of themselves was dramatically different from the U. S i9000. conception as a world power, and their resulting focus on the importance of bargain and cooperation was a very important education for me.
Hopefully my account explains the value of this kind of immersive experience in another tradition, but the question for some might be what happened when I returned? Was it an issue going back to college a year behind our classmates?
Absolutely not! Among the best experiences of college is your ability to reinvent yourself there. In college, I actually wasn’t class of 1986 anymore, I was class of 1991. People were jealous that I had taken a year to explore a different part of the world. I actually never felt “behind. ” Actually I felt more confident than our fellow first year students. I had been not concerned about making friends or existing in a new environment because I had formed already done so in Belgium. That allowed me to enjoy my 1st year of college even more than I really could have imagined.
In conclusion, consider taking Tufts up on its generous offer. And if Tufts is not for you, know that many other colleges are open and even encouraging of gap years, just as much now as they were 30 years ago.
Sally Ganga is a member of College Coach’s team associated with college admissions professionals . Prior to joining College Coach, Sally was a senior admissions officer at The University of Chicago, Reed College, and Whittier College.