When I traveled to Nepal in the fall of 2010, the leaders of my program gave us each a copy of an essay by Pico Iyer, called “Why we travel.” I found in it the words I had been looking for to describe why I wanted to take a gap year, and why I needed to be away from home.
…the sovereign freedom of traveling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head. If a diploma can famously be a passport (to a journey through hard realism), a passport can be a diploma (for a crash course in cultural relativism). And the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal.
On that note, I try and take advantage of the learning experiences on my gap year that I would find nowhere else. From touching pugliese bread while its still in the oven the check if it’s done, or building a slate wall or listening to a former milk lorry driver talk about his trip to Disney World, I’ve learned lessons (many of which I think are important) that I would have never learned any other time. In college I can take a business management class, but that cannot show me the day to day experiences of running a business, like I saw at the small artisinal bakery where I worked last month. To me, a gap year is all about learning things that are either beyond academics or seeing in them in perspectives I would never otherwise get.
I have nothing fancy to start my bit with, so I will say this; I took my first plane flight when I was three months old (unaccompanied! … just kidding.) and have not stopped travelling since then. Such frequent travel could have done two things to me. It could have conditioned me to travel in such a way that it really did not interest me. Or, which is what actually happened, it could have inspired me, driven me to explore more and more. It could have, in short, infected me with the travel bug. I started planning my gap year approximately six years before it actually rolled around, and therefor wasn’t considering how my gap year experiences would or would not differ from college life. It is lucky i had planned to take a gap year, because by the time I graduated high school, i felt most thoroughly unprepared to go to college. So on some level rob and I have the same motivations for taking a gap year, his were just far more thought out.