No, I didn’t learn how to snorkel.
No, I didn’t go to Morocco.
No, I didn’t start my own company.
I took a year off and, no, I didn’t do anything exotic. In fact, I lived at home with my parents in good old, Severna Park, Maryland (aka a non-descript suburb). I watched way too much T.V. and took long naps and spent hours watching Youtube compilation videos of puppies and babies playing together (may I recommend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-JWXF-Pud4).
But I also had my first real job. I worked at a retail store, cleaning out dressing rooms—and let me tell you, cleaning out seven dressing rooms by yourself on Black Friday is a lot more stressful than taking a midterm. Working retail, I saw a part of the world I probably never would have seen otherwise. As soon as Harvard starts, every summer seems to be spent interning at this firm or that, and we skip right over the part where we learn what it’s like to have minimum-wage jobs, to work long hours for little pay. Working a retail job taught me humility; it taught me that just because I had an acceptance letter to Harvard didn’t mean I was above folding clothes and…cleaning up someone else’s throw up.
I also learned how to be a better daughter. When I was in school, I was always preoccupied with homework and tests and extracurricular activities. I was always complaining to my parents about how stressed out I was. My parents cooked me dinner and cleaned my room and did my laundry (I literally didn’t even know how to distinguish the washer from the dryer). I didn’t realize that my parents also had things going on in their lives, too, and that my mom probably didn’t really enjoy waking up for work at 5 AM and then coming home to cook me dinner. During my year off, I learned to do my own laundry. I learned to cook dinner (after several mishaps in which I served my parents still-pink chicken…whoops). I learned to become more attuned to what was going on in my parents’ lives. And of course, I will never regret having had the opportunity to spend more time with my parents.
There are many more things I learned during my year off. Some I can put into words, some I can’t. But every day that I’m here at Harvard, I’m thankful for every day that I wasn’t here last year.