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Gap Life: Making the Most from a Year Off of School

As I put down my email for a possible job interview about a month ago, I explained to the store manager that I wouldn’t be available until December because I’m taking a gap year. She smiled at me and said, “Oh, that’s cool. I went straight to college… and then took a gap year, and I guess it kind of turned into a gap life.” That got me thinking. It’s called a gap year because it’s taking a gap between studies, right? Either between high school and college, or between years of college, but really, I’m not taking a gap from my studies at all. In fact, I might be doing just as much, or even more, learning than the average freshman girl at an American university.

I’ve now been in Central America for a month, traveling through four different countries while volunteering and working with local communities. I’ve also been taking intensive Spanish-language classes and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll finally be able to speak Spanish fluently, after years of high school and middle school classes. Speaking of Spanish, I probably should be studying it right now, either with my notes from Spanish school last week or having conversations with people around town. But instead, I’m trying to figure out how to pack up my backpack for when my group leaves tomorrow for a new village.

That’s right. I’ve been fitting all of my (not too short!) shorts and (not too revealing!) shirts for three months in one internal frame backpack. Add in souvenirs, the jersey and hat I bought at a Guatemalan fútbol game, and the roll of toilet paper one needs to carry around in these parts because it isn’t offered in most bathrooms, and you get a very heavy backpack. This isn’t to say I won’t be leaving anything behind– note to self: TOMS shoes? Not useful during the Guatemalan rainy season.

Even so, I’m excited to see what more situations like this come up. For example, next week, my gap year group will be volunteering and staying with families in a town with no electricity or plumbing. This means the “shower” is a river behind the village. I’ve never dealt with these kinds of things before, but that’s exactly why I decided to take a gap year in the first place: to have new experiences and explore parts of the world I’d never even thought about before. I can’t wait to see what happens next. There’s so much more to come, so stay tuned!

Callie is 18 and graduated high school in June 2011. She took a gap year that she wrote about for the High School blog, and is now a freshman at the University of Georgia.
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