Should international students take a gap year?

By: Maria Jimena Girado Jiraldo | June 9, 2017
Topics: Student Voices
University sounded like an amazing opportunity to expand my knowledge on something that I am going to spend my whole life doing, but there was something else calling me.

Maria, an alum from the 2015-2016 cohort, is now at university in the Netherlands. Originally from Colombia, Maria submitted this interview for US News & World Report on the growing trend of international students taking gap years.


9 months. 10 countries. 100 skills. The best gap year ever.

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Why did you decide to do a gap year before attending university?

I was lucky enough to attend an international school in the middle of rural India from 2013 to 2015 when I graduated. My classmates came from more than sixty different countries and all of them had a repertoire of diverse adventures and stories to tell.

Sometimes we would all sit down sipping some chai, telling anecdotes of our motherlands with pride in our hearts and tears in our faces. These evenings could go on until two or three in the morning but they taught me the lessons of a lifetime.

It was like this that I discovered that sometimes I would learn more about the world and life in those sessions than what I had learned in school for a whole semester. This is when I realized that there were other ways of learning, there were stories to discover and people to meet.

University sounded like an amazing opportunity to expand my knowledge on something that I am going to spend my whole life doing, but there was something else calling me. There was a desire of seeing those places that my peers were talking about, of experiencing those landscapes and feeling the people.

I was tired of sitting in a classroom while the world had so much more to offer. I wanted to learn, but I didn’t want to do it on their terms.

group photo gap year cohort alpha smile angkor wat cambodia-4062

Where did you go and what did you do for your gap year?

In September 2015, I found myself traveling to ten different countries, with seventeen strangers, learning 100 different skills.

I started in Central America and moved to South East Asia and lastly, Europe. I am now a certified SCUBA diver, a certified Thai Masseuse, semi fluent in French and fluent in permaculture; passionate about Ballet, Bollywood, Flamenco, and my list could go on and on.

In each country, we learned a skill that was relevant to the location that we were at. In this way, we were not only tourists but we were travelers, tasting each country as we flew in and out.

How did it help you prepare for university?

My gap year taught me how to be comfortable while feeling extremely uncomfortable.

Changing not only countries but cultures from one day to the next can be extremely exhausting for the mind. Being away from home means that the comforts that you once experienced are no longer there and not having a permanent home teaches you how to make of yourself the home you deserve.

And to be honest, isn’t that exactly what we need for university? Don’t we need to feel comfortable in a foreign place surrounded by strangers that will soon become your friends?

If you ask me, after traveling the world for nine months, university sounded like a piece of cake… and it kind of was.

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