Last year was a year of adventure. I lived abroad for 10 months and consequently got to experience foreign worlds first hand, work unique jobs, and learn a lot about myself. Soon enough, my blissful Gap Year came to an end and I rejoined “real life” when I arrived here in California to start my astrophysics career at UC Berkeley. It has now been a couple months since I’ve arrived and so far, so great. I’m thoroughly enjoying my classes and my new friends, and my experience has overall been absolutely positive. Had I not taken my Gap Year, my first months as a freshman would have been radically different, and by different I mean probably a lot more stressful.
My Gap Year Reduced Stress at University
Arriving here, I had a new bed, 13 new suitemates, and a whole new city to get used to. The fact that everything is different in college overtax many new students, but this was something I already became very comfortable with last year. Since the majority of freshmen are coming in straight from high school, they tend to be amidst the stress of figuring out what they want to study, who they want to be, etc., but I already had 15 months to ponder and clear up these things. I came in feeling nothing but excited for I was clear-minded, well rested, and eager to get back into the rhythm of things. This mentality set me ahead of many of my peers not just academically, but even more so socially and mentally.
Socially, college is just like the movies. There are frat parties and study groups, social media-obsessed populars and those who play video games until dawn. However, when you first get here, you fit in nowhere and you have too many preconceived expectations of what college should look like. Eager to find a social niche as soon as possible, everyone is overly friendly and subtly desperate to make ourselves count in the social scene. It’s hectic.
What I Learned on my Gap Year That Helped
I learned something very valuable last year that helped me breeze through this aura of social anxiety. In life, the things that end up meaning something genuine, that influence you positively and become a part of you, are things you didn’t chase after. They result from patience, acceptance, and trust that your environment will adapt to you. The people who immediately started their search for the type of friends they already decided they want to have are the people who end up disappointed. Instead, one should make the decision that every person you meet is a potential friend, that every moment or conversation will matter at another, and realize that those crazy stories or incredible friendships will only be crazy when they are thrown at you.
Here’s an example. When first arriving at my residence of hundreds of new students just like me, I found myself feeling left out from any group of people that I didn’t know yet. I would look around and wonder if I would ever become friends with that guy with the skateboard, or the girl with the galaxy backpack. But, just as I saw on my Gap Year, all those then-strangers mixed and matched and came together in the most perfect way. I took a step back and ignored the pressure, and sure enough, I never had to go looking for the friends I have and love today. It’s hard to imagine that asking the girls in the laundry room how they’re doing will be the first memory you make with your future best friends, but it very well could be. Some conversations lead to incredible connections and others don’t, and that is the point. Test the waters because it’s all brand new, and remember that assuming you won’t get along with a certain someone is the most harmful thing you could do to your social career in college.
How a Gap Year Helps Academically
Academically, a Gap Year really puts you ahead because you’re just seriously excited to get back to school. I had a whole year to reset my tired-out high school brain, and stimulate it with vastly different types of knowledge. I didn’t do math problems for a whole year, but I thought about whatever came to mind. This is rewarding because without trying, you ponder things you care about. Particularly, I thought about who I want to be and where I see myself in the future. I could be sure that it was only me deciding to care about those things, not my parents or society or academic pressures, and I became overwhelmingly passionate about a few things.
I also thought about my dreams daily and became very eager to achieve them. So, I more or less know what I’m looking to learn in college, what sort of job I want and who I want to be out of college. More or less because, well, I’m 19. Nevertheless, I came to college prepared to give it my all with my newly intensified passion for astronomy and physics, and many other things. Six weeks in, I’ve done just that. I sit in the front of my lectures, ask several questions, reach out to professors, and do everything I can to do my best. A whole year to reflect on what I care to study changed who I am as a student incredibly, and confirms that every step I make is just one more step closer to achieving my goals- goals that keep getting bigger and better.
Gap Year Assets I Took to College
Something I’m also really grateful for are all the new assets I came to college with post-Gap Year. For instance, I’m extraordinarily clean and organized. After living in foreign homes where I had no choice but to keep everything extra neat, I have become a very responsible house keeper. In fact, I even make my roommates’ beds in the morning and maintain a very tidy dorm, which is something I never would have expected of myself.
I’m also very dedicated to keeping myself healthy. When you leave home and you don’t have the same workout or food options, and you share a bathroom with strangers and have a packed schedule, it’s difficult to always feel your best. I recognized the importance of prioritizing things like getting a few runs in per week or setting off time to stretch or scrub my body on my Gap Year, and I didn’t wait to get into a healthy rhythm of it here. I’m also very timely, and because of so I have more free time to do things that make me happy and to relax and keep myself well rested. Especially when you’re in hard classes and constantly busy with clubs and parties, this control and adult-ness that I acquired on my Gap Year really makes college way more pleasant.
Furthermore, free time is usually lazy time for college kids. This is acceptable considering how stressed we are the majority of the time, but since my Gap Year was essentially a year long homework break, I mastered the art of free time productivity.
I realized just how much you can achieve with as little as one hour on your hands, and I take that to reach out to that girl in my residence hall who always wanted to get coffee, for example. Or I’ll take the time to reflect and journal, or call a friend from home (or my parents if I’m feeling generous). In addition, it’s important to have these “free-times” as often as possible. In other words, if I’m running because I’m late to my lecture and I run into that climbing-loving guy I met a couple weeks ago, I will stop and have a full conversation with him even though I’m missing class. I now have a new friend who’s going to introduce me to a potential new hobby, and I caught up on those 5 minutes of missed lecture online later that night. Prioritize the little moments, they add up to the stuff that is really worth it in the long run.
Gap Year = Growth & Maturity
These small yet valuable lessons that I’ve instilled in my life because of my Gap Year make me feel more mature than a lot of other people here. I am focused on the things that many others have yet to realize are so important and it also made my adjustment period very short and easy. Mentally, more so than time-wise, I am a year ahead. Because of so, I feel way less pressured in all scenarios. Socially, I’m patient and academically, I’m brave, and the best part of these advantages is the position it puts me in to be able to help others. I often am the one to comfort others and help them with their first experience away from home since I’m already so familiarized with it. I’m not looking for help, I’m helping. With a mindset that is stable, open-minded, and ready for whatever is coming my way, I’ve got way more headspace to seek out more interesting things rather than dwell on discomforts, insecurities, and fears like most freshmen.
It’s crucial to know that all of these things only matter if they matter everyday. I learned that it’s extraordinarily unproductive to think in the short term, or to think that everything you’re doing is just to get to somewhere else. Each day is a fresh start, and if you dwell on being a certain type of person for a while or commit yourself to something for just a short while, the sum of your experiences will be made up of unclear morals that don’t have a consistent identity.
Your life shouldn’t be rated on your list of accomplishments, but on your quality of life on a day to day basis. Be nice to everyone, everyday. Work your hardest and do things that make you proud, everyday. Still, forgive yourself and allow yourself to grow. Tomorrow is right there and it’s a whole new day where you should decide to be the best you, again. In college, you will definitely have ups and downs but as long as you know what kind of qualities you strive to be defined by, you can be yourself through it all. This is you thinking long-term. This is the only way to grow and improve productively in order for you to reach your full potential.
On an astronomical scale, nothing really matters. Evolutionarily speaking, we are too miraculous to make sense and the most assuring solution to this loneliness is a religious outlet that no one can truly understand. We are small, lost, but we are also everything. When nothing matters, you realize that everything matters. Everything is the meaning of life, every moment is the most important moment, and one day is just as worthy as your entire life. So make it count by deciding who you are and living by it everyday, and college will suddenly be anything but scary.
Had I not taken my Gap Year, I wouldn’t have learned all of realized all of these things that truly brightened my future. I wear an invisible backpack of unforgettable times from my gap year at all times, and I can’t imagine what kind of college student I would be without it. What I left behind was short-lived and amazing, but it’s the fact that I will carry the lessons with me forever that made my gap year so, incredibly worth it.