It’s gonna be a hell of a ride.

A brief background on my gap year: I finished school at the end of 2015, and aimed at going to a US college in fall (September) of 2016. The unexpected happened, and I suddenly found myself college-less in March 2016. I was to reapply again for fall of 2017, but until then, I had nowhere to go. And so began my journey in my gap year. A journey of coming to terms with myself. It has now been a bit over a year that I have been off school, and I still have around 6 months before attending college.

Here’s what taking a gap year has taught me so far, and hopefully it’ll help you understand more about what actually happens in one:

You will need to design your own curriculum.

I am a creature of habit. I crave structure and organization. Stepping out of school, I was completely fazed by what I was supposed to do with all the time I had, and how I was supposed to manage it. It was then that I started drafting my Bridge Year Bucket List. Through continuous brainstorming and weekly revisions, I created a detailed list of what I wanted to achieve in my time before college.

I designed my own curriculum, because I no longer had school teachers dictating the course of my classes. I became my own teacher, because only I knew what was best for me.

You should learn to learn

School is generally and largely considered to be the place where most of our academic education takes place. But with changing curricula in an ever-changing society, not everyone always gets the best out of their education while at school. And certainly not everyone learns how to truly learn a subject they are deeply passionate about.

I learned to learn because I was no longer forced to study. The academic pressure that emerged in this year came from myself, and the only way that I could learn autonomously me was if I understood how I learned best. And that’s what I did. I poured my ideas on paper and continuously sought to improve my skills in those areas, experimenting and researching about different ways to become a more knowledgeable and creative person.

I was no longer bounded by a rigid syllabus and constant exams – I was free to learn.

You’re going to spend a lot of time alone.

Social skills are not my forte, and though I did not have a squad nor a close circle of friends, I had several friendly acquaintances at school and a few close friends, and that worked fine for me.

But when I left school, I no longer had my school community to lean on socially. Everybody else was either at school or at college; moving forwards at a solid and concrete pace, while I was left to question my actions every step of the way. It has been daunting – it is still daunting – and it brought out a lot of my insecurities, but it also helped me understand how to be alone without being lonely.

I realized that my loneliness was rooted in the fact that I hadn’t yet learned to be with myself. The FOMO in our digital age was in conflict with my introverted nature. What did I do? I turned to my work. I read, wrote, played music, exercised, explored, traveled, and gradually became friends with myself.

We all need friends in our lives; I treasure the few that I have tremendously, and I’m really happy about that, because I thrive more when I’m working, learning and creating on my own.

Befriending Discipline will be key.

My dad reminds me of this one. His constant strive to be fit and healthy is becoming increasingly challenging due to the nature of his aging body. I can see his struggle because I live with him. Everyone else sees the result only, but no one keeps him accounted for the progress. My dad’s motivation is very consistent and clear, and hence he is able to take care and train his body to the state that it is now.

But discipline isn’t something that always comes so easy nor naturally for most of us. At school, students are expected to follow through the rigorous academic system, but most of the time there isn’t any real issue of ‘discipline’ if our education is being handled from top to bottom every year.

Just like I learned to learn this year, I also came to understand self-discipline. I had to find my own source of self-motivation and use that to guide my aims and goals. I had to have a very clear mental understanding of why I was doing each task, so that I would consistently do them even if no one could care less. For some activities, my motivation was clear from the start: I want to read so that I can entertain and educate myself at the same time. But for other things, it took its own time: I didn’t start actively wanting to learn Chinese until I stayed with my family in Taiwan for 2 months recently, and the drive to improve my Chinese just came to me.

Time is not to be taken for granted, but we must also accept that some things can’t just be forced upon us. Letting things flow as they do naturally is sometimes the best option, and when that desire and drive does come to you, whether you hang on to it or not will be up to you.

Your insecurity is valid.

Just like feeling lonely, I felt insecure, lost, scared and hopeless a lot of the time. Where was the arrow that had always pointed me towards a right direction? Was there even a right direction? I didn’t even know. I felt like I was trapped in a void, surrounded by arrows pointing towards all directions. Every step, any step, I took would take me closer towards a goal, but further away from all the others. What would I choose?

The thing that gave me solace in these moments was my gradual understanding that whichever path I took, I would eventually end up where I was meant to be. Just like there is no absolute good nor evil in this world, there is no absolute right nor wrong. I am still an insecure and cowardly person at times, but that’s no longer a reason to not push myself out of my comfort zone in any imaginable ways possible.

Establishing a good relationship with your parents is a must.

A lot, if not most, of what one does in a gap year is about oneself. It is, after all, a time for self-growth and moment of self-reflection in which you can learn more about yourself as an individual – not as a student, but as a living person whose life goes beyond what school can teach you.

In this process, you should also learn to grow with your family. You’re no longer a student bombarded with school work, activities and a social life, with not much time left for your family. Your parents, and the rest of your family, are a part of this process as well. Time should be in their favor during this time.

A gap year is a ticket to another world.

You don’t need to spend 9 months volunteering in Africa and you don’t have to do solo traveling around Europe to make this time worth something. Chances are that you wouldn’t be able to do that because that would cost a hell lot of money anyway.

For a lot of time during my gap year, I saw this time as an opportunity to grow outwards. To hone as many skills as possible, take as many classes and go to as many places as possible. After all, if I was missing out on my first year of college, I should try to maximize my time outside college, right?

But the truth is, you don’t need to travel externally to learn. You can travel through the experiences of authors dead or alive, through your own self-reflection, and by observing the world around you clearly for the first time. If you can do that, if you can learn to expand yourself while staying at home, then you have learned more than what many are still trying to do.

It is not about how much you can do in a certain amount of time. It is not about how far nor how much you can travel, nor how many experiences and things you see. It is about appreciating what you already have, and doing the things that are within your reach with a bigger and better mindset.

It’s not really a gap year; it’s a bridge year.

Both terms are used interchangeable, with ‘gap year’ being more common. A gap year is defined as “a period, typically an academic year, taken by a student as a break between secondary school and higher education.” A gap year suggests that you took time away from education to invest in other activities, but I think it goes beyond that.

This year for me was about all the things I talked about above – about understanding what drives my passion, what makes me want to learn, about expanding my horizons with the abundance that I already have. A bridge year suggests that this year is being spent bridging our interests gradually from one stage to the other, instead of jumping from school to college simply because that’s what we’re expected to do. A bridge year is about seeing what lies beyond that of what an academic environment is able to teach us, to then (maybe) go back knowing better who we are and what we want.

This is what my bridge year is about.

-Michelle

7 Comments

  1. I think it’s awesome that you disciplined yourself enough to not lose your mind because I too know what it feels like to have that school schedule that you basically rely on and suddenly you’re left with all this free time. I graduated in 2013 and I have yet to continue my studies. It took me a long time to realise that I wasn’t interested in studying so instead I focused on reading and working on my mental health. Thankfully last year I decided- finally- what I want to do in life and now I’m working towards that. It gets tough and I understand want you mean about the loneliness. Mine ate me up and I became a hermit but lately I’ve been trying to be more sociable. I’m sorry if I made this about me- I have a bad habit of doing things like that. Thanks for your post though, it really helped knowing that there are others out there who understands. And good luck on your journey forward!

    • Wow, thank you for your comment! And don’t be sorry, sharing our stories is what blogging is about 🙂
      I know someone from my high school who took a year off school to work on her mental health, and from what I know/have seen, you just really gotta take it slow. Listening and nurturing your body is very important – for all of us – and I’m glad to see that you’re working your way up (baby steps!). If there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that there is no one path to follow. Everything we do is valid, and deviating from the norm can lead us to different and possibly more unique opportunities. Good luck to you too Caron <3

      • You’re right and I agree. I stopped forcing myself to do things that didn’t feel right and while I may not be at my happiest, I have hope and it was something I didn’t believe in before but now that hope, no matter how small, is what keeps me going everyday. And thank you!

  2. Daniela Flores Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! Reading this post really helped me thinking about a bridge year as something positive. I had expectations and when my piano teacher told me that it would be better if I take a year to improve my piano skills instead of applying to college this year, I felt (and still feel) terrible about myself. “What am I going to do? What will happen next? Will I be able to really increase my skills?” As someone who expected to go to college after graduating from high school, I felt really disappointed with myself but while reading your post, I started thinking that the next year will be great for me and that I will finally be able to do what I love and accept myself. I think this year will be a year of self-discovery and acceptance. At least I hope so. Thank you so much for make me realising that! 💚

    • I can absolutely relate to your fears and insecurities. But I think that the fact that you have something specific to focus on (piano) will help you through this year, if music is what you wish to follow. It’ll not only help you work on your musicality, but also reflect upon your career choice, and other personal aspects of your life as well.
      As for the uncertainties, like I mentioned in the post, will make you a stronger and more determined person afterwards.
      I recently watched JK Rowling’s commencement speech (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c) and one of her main topics is about facing challenges and “failing”:
      “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all— in which case, you fail by default.”
      Of course, you haven’t failed at all if you decide to not go to college straight away. But it will be a big challenge that might make you feel like a ‘failure’, but it will be these difficult moments that strengthen and define you more. OH, I just remembered another TED talk in which the speaker (a woman who had to cope with her son getting a rare form of cancer) talks about how it is our most difficult moments, and not our accomplishments, that define us. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWJwa7lntTs

      Sorry if this was a lot of rambling/info, but it’s also something that I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately. Whatever choice you make, the fact that you’re acknowledging the difficulties and insecurities that you have is a big step already. Good luck to you Daniela!

      • Daniela Flores Reply

        Thank you so much for your answer! 🙂 It really helped me and I will definitely check that videos out. Is interesting that you talked about failure because that’s what I thought – that I failed in some way. I am really afraid of failing. One of my “New Year’s Resolutions” is to accept myself and to learn to love some versions of myself. With all this “not-going-to-college” thing I almost forgot about what I want to do throughout this year (and now, the next one). But I want to change that. I am remembering a post I read about self-acceptence and self-love​written by Rowan Blanchard. http://www.rookiemag.com/2016/01/sorry-not-sorry/
        Your blog is very inspiring! And I love your writing. I think you are very good with words. Thank you so much for spreading positive “vibes” in your blog and​ for inspiring others.

        • awww keep up the courage 🙂 Thanks for the blog post (I’ll read that as soon as I can), and thank you for being so supportive and spreading your good vibes here too 😉 <3

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