My Gap Year

Last year, before starting at Connecticut College, I took a gap year with a program called WorldStamp and spent nine months teaching and volunteering in India, Guatemala and Costa Rica. It was an incredibly valuable and life-changing experience, and I recommend that everyone do something like this, whether before, during, or after college.

 

India was my favorite country, and even now at Conn, I still miss India more than I miss home. Sure, there’s some trash on the streets, white girls get a lot of stares, and communication with tuk tuk drivers can be challenging at times, but it’s all part of the experience. During our 45-minute drive to school each day, I loved looking out the window at the cars, tuk tuks, scooters, animals and people. The streets look so chaotic, but somehow there’s an invisible method to the madness that makes it all work. I love the colors of India, too – the vibrant saris that women wear, the eclectic color choices for the buildings, and the way the sun gets huge and round and red right before it sets.

 

 

I saw a lot of different cities and sites in India, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Amber Fort in Jaipur, and the India Gate in New Delhi. I’ve been hiking in the Himalayan Mountains and have seen the funeral pyres in Varanasi, not to mention a trip to the beaches of Goa and an over-night camel ride in the desert! These places have been amazing in their own way, and I love seeing these different sides of India. But what speaks the most about my experience in India is how I always felt coming back from these excursions. Every time that I came back to the guesthouse in Jaipur, I felt like I was coming home.

 

 

It was always nice to sleep in our own beds and do our laundry when we came “home” from excursions, but what I liked most was returning to school and seeing all my students. Every morning they greeted us with excitement, shouting, “Good morning Teacher! How are you?” and giving us lots of high fives. There was always a little extra enthusiasm when we came back from our excursions, and when I walked into my classroom I got a lot of hugs, and sometimes even a kiss or two on the cheek.

 

 

I taught the most advanced students at the school, ages 10 to 13. They were all girls because, at that age and level, the boys are either working or attending a government school outside of the village. It’s rare for parents in the village to let their daughters leave the community unattended, even to school, so I tried to bring education to them.

 

We started every day with English class. We did a wide variety of things for this subject, such as practicing writing, learning new vocabulary, trying to get more comfortable with speaking English, and working on reading and comprehension. Next we did math, which included long multiplication, area and perimeter, basic division, memorizing times tables through 12, and order of operations. We also studied geography and world religions, with a bit of science as well.

 

 

My students may not have been at quite the same level as students their age in the U.S., but this was certainly not from a lack of potential, motivation, or love of learning. After all, teachers and volunteers have only been coming to the this village for three years, and the school was not officially opened until a year ago. But despite these obstacles and many others, my students had a passion for learning that I seldom see in the U.S.

 

One of the biggest reasons for my decision to go on the gap year program was that I love to travel and sight-see. And while I definitely enjoyed doing this in India, my favorite part was still unquestionably being with my students. I’ve always loved kids and volunteering, but I did not expect this to be my favorite part of the trip. Yet now, I can’t imagine it being any other way. In fact, I was so in love with the country and the kids that I went back to India at the end of the nine-month WorldStamp program to teach for another month!

 

For anyone considering taking a gap year, I highly recommend it. A third of my peers in the program were already part-way through college and used the time to figure out what they wanted to do after graduating. Gap years are also popular after college, and serve as a nice break between undergraduate and graduate school. And don’t forget to take advantage of the amazing study abroad or Study Away, Teach Away programs here at Conn! You definitely won’t regret it!