Last week, we spoke to Erin about why she decided to take a gap year to Zambia. Below, she talks about her experience, what surprised her and the advice she has for other students considering gap time.
What did my gap year entail?
While in Lusaka, Zambia, every day was different. Some of the more consistent things I did were various assignments for the organization like making updates, taking pictures, and putting together Powerpoints and videos. I also helped to lead a youth group on Sundays.
During most mornings, I went to the community school and tutored biology and English to 12th graders getting ready for their final exams. The best parts of my days were when I got to go into the community and experience their culture by learning the local language and joining my new friends in their every day life.
This included gardening, cooking, braiding hair, playing games, or even just walking to school with them. The unscheduled days turned into the best thing I could have ever imagined. It allowed me to be relaxed and do spontaneous things without having to leave a family's home early that I was cooking with, or stay after tutoring to help look over and revise someone’s paper.
My favorite thing I did on my gap year was spending time with the parents of my host family. After dinner we would drink tea or coffee and talk about anything and everything, or play a very competitive game of Settlers of Catan.
What advice do I have for people interested in taking a gap year?
If you have any interest at all, DO IT! But I suggest, don’t just stay at home or go to a place you are familiar with.
If possible, go to a different country and experience a different culture. Be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, and go somewhere you have always wanted to go.
The worst case scenario is you end up not liking it and go home early. But what could happen is you end up loving it and your perspective on life could change. The most important tip is to know all of the due dates for the college or university you deferred from, especially the financial aid ones.
Allow some time in-between getting home and going to school to reflect on your experience and catch up with friends and family. If possible, don’t tire yourself out by getting as many jobs as you can when you get back.
What's something incredible that happened on my gap year?
One incredible experience I had was visiting Victoria Falls with my mom and sister when they came to visit me. I can now cross that one off my bucket list! It was dry season at the time, so there wasn’t much water, but the gap that separated Zambia and Zimbabwe could be seen clearly. It was breath-taking. We hiked down to the boiling point surrounded by baboons, and saw where the water from the falls was churning.
What was the biggest surprise during my gap year?
The biggest surprise for me in taking a gap year is the amount of excitement I now have to go to college and study. Don’t get me wrong, I have always wanted to succeed in school and do well, but my motivation came from wanting to get a good grade, not necessarily to really know and understand what I was “learning.”
I had to teach biology and English to students, which challenged me to read and understand the material well in order to create notes and explain the information. After the first week of teaching biology, I could hardly stop reading and loved to create notes and answer the questions the students had.
I never thought I would gain back such a huge love for learning.