"I never wanted to take a gap year, but I'm sure glad I have."
As we've been talking about for the last few weeks, every gap year is unique. Some students go through programs, while others opt to plan a year off on their own.
For Hannah Posey-Scholl, a gap year was never in the cards. But now that she's traveled to Japan, taught English and swimming, and experienced life "off the track," she can't believe she ever considered not taking a gap year.
We asked her a few questions about her planning process, her time overseas and how her gap year year has shaped up.
Why did you decide to take a gap year?
I wish I could say I decided to take a gap year because I had some wonderful things I wanted to do and knew that this would be the time to do them, but really my gap year decision was anything but. When it came time for me to choose a college in my senior year, I finally put all the numbers together that I'd been avoiding and looked at the expected family contribution and realized that, for the college of my choice, it wasn't going to be possible.
The company my mom had been working for for twenty years had just moved the job back to Chicago, and my mom was going to be looking for a job. I knew there would be a way to explain that to any college I went to, but I felt like, until my mom’s job situation settled, going to the college I wanted to go to was going to doom my family financially…and I didn't want to do that.
I actually cried multiple times in the first few days after I decided to take a gap year was going to be the best choice for me and my family--I felt like a failure. I wasn't going to go to college when all my friends were going to college. I was sure I was going to be stuck in my hometown for a year, because everyone else I knew who was taking a gap year already had such extravagant plans all set up. From my point of view, I was not taking a gap year willingly.
What did the process look like when you were planning?
For a short time, I did try and look at some gap year programs online. I decided that I would probably travel to Japan at some point during college, because I know I want to keep working on the language, so I wanted to go somewhere else. Back in the beginning of my planning, I decided Prague would be a nice place to spend a year in…then I looked at prices. Everything was so expensive, and most programs were already closed.
After seeing a number of websites with too many numbers on them, I gave up on the idea of going somewhere through a gap year program. However, that search had opened my eyes to the idea that maybe taking a gap year wouldn't be all bad.
When I found the website that made international travel this year possible, it was purely because I got lucky and Googled the right words. Nothing aside from expensive gap year programs had come up when I looked for opportunities in Prague, so I’d moved back to looking for opportunities in Japan. It was during a down time in my Japanese class when I decided to Google something along the lines of “volunteer work in Japan” and found myself on this website called Workaway. It seemed interesting, so I sent the link off to my mom to ask what she thought, and went on with my school day.
As it turns out, finding the Workaway website was like finding a gold mine. Suddenly, there were all kinds of places I could volunteer, all over the world! I looked at so many opportunities all over the world, but settled on the first one I’d found--an opportunity to teach English in a small city in Japan. It had good reviews, and looked like the kind of job I could do, after having been a teacher or mentor in many situations before. As soon as I graduated, I wrote up an email to send to the host, sent it off, and crossed my fingers.
About a week later, after many back-and-forth messages and a Skype call between very different timezones, it was confirmed! I was going to have a place to stay in Japan, for at least two months. I talked it over with my mom and figured it would be safe to start come the new year, because I would probably be able to make enough money for a successful trip by then.
After that, I had to figure out how I was going to get there. Somehow I needed to make enough money to get myself to and from Japan, and to spend while living there for however long I was going to be there. In short, I had to get a job.
At that point, I really didn't want to stay in Portland. I didn't want to potentially see people I knew from my high school, because I would feel like some sort of shameful failure for not being in college immediately after high school. Because of that, I started contacting my relatives to see who I could stay with, and where I could potentially get a job.
A few weeks later, I'd arranged with my dad to go and stay with him in Baltimore for around four months, and had a couple potential jobs there lined up. I polished my resume, packed my bags, and flew out to the other side of the country.
To be honest, I didn't have my whole Japan trip planned until after I was in Japan. I knew I had a place to stay for two months, and figured I could work something out for a third, so that I could stay in Japan for the full three months and max out my tourist visa. When I bought my plane tickets, I only had plans for two of the three months.
By the time I left the U.S., I’d contacted a second Workaway host and gotten myself a second place to stay in a very different part of Japan, but the dates weren't set. Within the first month in Japan, I communicated a lot with that same host, and was able to get a third volunteer job set up through them. At that point, I was all set with enough plans all up and down the main island of Japan to keep me busy for the full three months.
What were you most nervous about before leaving?
Before leaving to go to Baltimore, I was really nervous over whether I would be able to get a job or not. I spent all my time in high school doing either schoolwork or sports--even in the summers, I'd taken an internship and done volunteer work instead of getting a job--and I'd never had a paid job before. I was really nervous about the application process, and about whether there would even be any jobs available because people kept telling me that Baltimore was so full of college students who take up all the jobs. Thankfully, that worked out. I got a job almost immediately, and it was one of the few easily accessible locations from my dad’s house.
Before leaving for Japan, I was just generally nervous something would go wrong. Up until the night before I left, which was when I finished packing, I was nervous about the size of the bag I’d decided to bring; I was nervous about getting from place to place in Japan, traveling all around the country by myself for the first time when I'd hardly even done that in America; I was nervous about feeding myself, because I’m not a good cook; but I think I was most nervous about whether I would even make it to Japan or not.
The night before I left, and the day I was leaving, my mom and I spent a lot of time trying to check me in for one of my intercontinental flights, and it wasn't working. It wouldn't’ve been that big a problem, except for the fact that I had very little layover time in the airport before that flight… And that airport was the LA airport, which is both notorious for being horrible, and was one airport I hadn't ever been to. It was definitely an exhilarating race through the airport, one that I detailed thoroughly in my first blog post on hannahspixels.wordpress.com.