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June 29, 2015

GAP YEAR: A student's perspective

Written by  Heath Goertzen
Photo provided by the 2014-2015 Southeast Asia YES team. Photo provided by the 2014-2015 Southeast Asia YES team.

This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

In my freshman year of high school, when my older brother decided to take a gap year, I was quite unsure about the idea. Why would anyone decide to interrupt the normal flow of education to do something else for a year?

When I asked my brother about his reasoning, he simply said, “If I'm going to have an experience that influences me so much that I want to change my life path, like a year of service, I want to do it before I'm already down a path.” An answer that made sense wasn't something that I was prepared for. It made me realize that for some people, especially those who aren't quite sure where they belong, a gap year could be a very positive experience.

I was still fairly convinced that I would go straight to college, however. I hadn't given the issue that much thought, and even though I didn't have a life plan, I was sure I would gain certainty of my path and calling as I grew older.

As I moved into my junior and senior years of high school, I found myself in a state of indecision. Simply put, people said: “You can be anything you want!” And I said: “What if I want to be everything?!” I couldn't narrow down what I wanted to do. STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], graphic design, English, history, farming, and social sciences were all options I considered, and all seemed like fields I could see myself pursuing.

One day, as I was out driving the tractor for my father (one of the rare activities during which one can think in endless tangents and still get work done), a piece about gap years came up on the radio. The reporter spoke very highly of the idea of a gap year, and said that students who take a gap year usually enter college more focused, more sure of themselves, more prepared, and more motivated than before. At the time, I was feeling motivated, but definitely not sure of myself or prepared, so the idea appealed to me.

As my junior year continued, I still found myself facing a swirling mass of indecision. I knew that many colleges allow for exploration of major programs, but I wanted to get to know myself better, as well as have some time to gain perspective on all of my interests, and perhaps have a chance to categorize and prioritize them.

Realizing that a gap year might be a good way to do this, I asked a few people about their experience with gap years. I knew my brother's experience had been positive, but wanted more information. I heard only positive feedback. In fact, most of these people ended the conversation with, “If you're even thinking about taking a gap year to do service, do it.”

I was convinced.

Heath Goertzen is serving in Southeast Asia through Mennonite Mission Network’s Radical Journey program. He works with children at a preschool run by a local Mennonite church and helps with graphic design and website management. He is from Newton, Kansas, and blogs at heathgoertzen.wordpress.com.

This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.