Interview With a Gap Year Student

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Kai Millici took her Gap Year in Ecuador. Her high school newspaper interviewed her about the experience:

Where in the world are you? What have you been doing this year?

I am living in a small town called Imbaya in a northern region of Ecuador. My program, Global Citizen Year, placed me with a host family where I have a mom, dad, a brother and a sister who are all really involved in the community. I live with them and work in the afternoons with my mom at the Caja de Ahorro y Credito, which is a small credit union for the town. Right now the members are working to meet the requirements to become a Cooperativa, which is a larger credit union that has more benefits for its members.

My program also placed me in the Caja. For about a month I didn’t have anything to do in the mornings before the Caja opened so I was given the option by my mom who asked around to teach English at the local school, work at the health center, help at the local preschool or the local daycare. I chose to help at the preschool to be able to be active in the mornings since I spend most of my time at the Caja sitting, and because it allows me to be more involved in the community by meeting a lot of little kids and their parents. I’ve also come to enjoy it a lot because it’s really interesting to see the first interaction Ecuadorian children have with their education and what the way they are being educated says about the culture. On top of that, I take Spanish class in the city that I live outside of once a week, and do a lot of activities with extended family of which there is a lot.

Why did you decide to take a Gap Year?

I took a Gap Year for a lot of reasons. For one, a lot of my interests that I’m looking into exploring in college are international relations-related: government, development, sustainability, and entrepreneurship. These are all things that I think feel really abstract and foreign if you only study them in a classroom. Especially for interests like diplomacy and development, it felt weird thinking about pursuing those in college, and then potentially as a career, without knowing what any of that actually looked like when all of these policies and negotiations and laws are made and people have to live them. So I guess more simply I wanted to see the effects of development initiatives, see how government interaction with citizens is different in a different culture, and gain a better understanding of what I wanted to study in college before I was learning about it in a classroom. This goal ended up working out really well because the Caja that I work at is one of many under a development organization based in our region, which also gets some aid from the U.S., so it’s been really interesting to observe how that works and the pros and cons of that.

I also felt that throughout high school I had been overly-focused on my grades and getting into college and always kind of looked at everything as having to be a straight path. In a lot of ways that mindset has held me back so I really wanted to have time between high school and college to see who I am and how I react to things when there aren’t grades, tests, activities, cliques, and the like involved.

I haven’t traveled a lot before this year but the small amount I had taught me a lot about how the world is changing, the ways that we can all be similar but the ways that we are different depending on our culture and history, and a bunch of other ideas and questions that got me so curious and excited. Everyone tells you to travel while you have the chance, and I knew I would probably regret it if I didn’t do it. I also wanted to be able to travel somewhere long enough to really get it. Of course, after eight months I’m not going to be Ecuadorian. There are still a lot of things about Ecuador I won’t be able to understand. But the longer I’ve been here the more I realize how much I didn’t know before. I wanted to travel somewhere and be there for a really long time.

Has this experience taught you anything about yourself? If so, what?

It’s taught me so much about myself, but there are a few things that I think keep coming up for me all of the time. The first is that I shouldn’t place so much importance on everything. That’s not to say that I want to stop being punctual and bringing my hardest-working self to any work I do, but working this year and realizing I don’t have to freak out and analyze so much after every time a supervisor says I did something wrong or anything like that is a big thing for me to learn. People’s view of me and my reputation is built over time and I tend to forget that and over-analyze every little reaction someone has to my work. I’m still working on that but I’m glad to have identified that as a problem this year.

I also want to spend more time with my family and prioritize that more, because the work-family/life balance in Ecuador is much more focused on family and being around your extended family all of the time here. There are certain things about that focus here that I don’t think are possible with how my lifestyle and a lot of my peers’ lifestyles are in the U.S., but family as a bigger priority is definitely something I want to take away from this year.

You have to put in a lot of effort to get to know where you are when you’re traveling (talking to a lot of different people, walking around, going to events, activities and all of that), but through doing that here I’ve realized I don’t know that much about Seattle either. By this I mean I spend most of my time with friends in the same parts of Seattle, I don’t prioritize making new friends too much, and I don’t really try to learn about my city because I assume I know it having lived there my whole life. So I guess I’ve learned that it’s really easy to become comfortable and assume you know a place, but you should keep trying to peel back layers so you get to know it even better, and then you get to be in your comfort zone in more places.

What have been a few of the highlights so far?

Last week I went with four of my friends to the Amazon for a week. I live in the mountains so the scenery was still way different from what I was used to, and the climate and how people who live there adapt to it is way different. We got to see a bunch of monkeys and snakes and other animals, swim in the lagoons in black water (to be clear: it was clean it’s just known as black water), canoe a bunch, hang out with our really cool tour guide, hike through the forest, and wake up to the sounds of all the animals because we were sleeping in tents.

I wasn’t placed in Imbaya immediately, first all of the Fellows in my program were in Quito, which is the capital of Ecuador, for orientation where we lived with temporary host families for three weeks and met every day to learn about culture, the education system and that type of thing. I remember getting into Quito on a flight super late at night, and just looking out the window and realizing I was going to be in Ecuador until April. It was one of those moments where you have no idea what you’re looking at or what you’re getting yourself into, but you know eventually you’ll be looking at the same view or same thing with so much more understanding and clarity which was really cool.

On a day-to-day basis I most look forward to just talking with my mom Mayrita every day at lunch. My dad works all day and my brother and sister aren’t home when I’m home for lunch, so I just eat with her. I’ve loved getting closer and closer to her as the weeks have passed and learning about her life and sharing about mine. Forming that relationship was tough at first because both sides have some trouble understanding each other (culturally and language-wise) and now it feels so rewarding being able to talk to her about so much and feeling so comfortable.

What have been some of the challenges? Have you overcome any of them? How?

All of my challenges have stemmed from being out of my comfort zone in one way or another. They range from small things like being laughed at on the bus if I don’t know what stop to get off on, getting a spider bite or having to eat foods that I’m not used to. Those are challenges because no matter how good of a day you are having they remind you that you’re in a place you aren’t used to and that can be hard. The bigger challenges are more constant. It’s seeing your friends all come home for winter break on Snapchat or Instagram while you’re thousands of miles away from your family on Christmas and all you want to do is go home. On the day after the election I was really upset because I did not want Trump to win, and that was really hard because nobody really understood. I felt like I had to suppress my feelings and on top of that I didn’t feel like I could fully communicate my needs or anything like that so it felt lonely and overwhelming. Things like that. You’re kind of constantly stretching yourself and while that’s great it also means there are going to be so many big and small challenges that come up for you when you’re out of your comfort zone.

As far as overcoming them, I try to just think about why I came here in the first place and that helps a little bit. Like not look at what is happening or what I’m feeling in the moment as a bad feeling, but a feeling that reveals something about myself I wouldn’t get to see otherwise, which makes it more of a blessing or something to be grateful for. Which is way way more easier said than done. When that doesn’t do the job I facetime friends or family, listen to music, or just do something that reminds me of home.

Do you feel ready to jump into college next year?

Honestly, the fact that I’ve had a whole year without doing essays and math tests and all of that means I’ll probably have a rougher first semester than most people academically, but I know once I get back into the swing of things it won’t be a problem. But as far as navigating being away from home and having to take care of myself, I have so much more experience with that than I could if I just went straight to college. I also have more questions about the topics I want to study and more clarity on how I want to spend my time, so I think in that sense I’m also much more well-prepared for college than I would be otherwise.

If you had the chance to redo this year and choose Gap Year or college, which would you choose?

Gap Year without a doubt. You’ll never have the opportunity to travel somewhere for this long without having to worry about a career, or taking care of your kids or any of those things. I think a year like this allows you to go into college more passionate about the things you’re studying because you’ve seen it in a sense, so you get more out of it than you might if you did it in your junior year of college when you don’t have a lot of time left.

Overall pros, cons and recommendations?

Pros:
You learn so much about yourself, you learn so much more about a different culture and a different part of the world than you could if you traveled for less time, and you make a lot of great connections throughout the year, with friends you’re traveling with and the people you meet in your community. Also for those that aren’t convinced it’s a good idea just because of the personal growth stuff, you also learn/practice a different language, get internship experience in a field you’re interested in, and take part in something that’s becoming more and more popular and seen as more valuable to employers and groups that want to see evidence of travel experience and maturity.

Cons:
It’s super hard and while you adjust to where you are, it never stops being hard for one reason or another just because there are so many facets of it that are out of your comfort zone and you know that you won’t be in your comfort zone for a really long time. That being said, the benefits and what you learn from putting yourself through a gap year are beyond worth the hard parts.

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kaiKai Millici

Kai is a Global Citizen Year Fellow spending her bridge year in Ecuador. She is passionate about traveling, journalism, education reform, social justice and Native Peoples’ rights. In high school Kai was involved in soccer and track and field, was editor of her school’s newspaper, and studied international relations at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C for a semester. Her goals for the year are to become fluent in Spanish, gain a better understanding of herself and her values, explore her interests in education and entrepreneurship, and learn about Kichwa history and their current state.

Why My Child’s Gap Year is Vital

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There are a lot of great arguments for the value of a Gap Year for young people. Chief among them seem to be the focus on a break from the long slog of 12 years of institutional schooling, the value of getting outside of a home culture and seeing from different perspectives, and the time to pursue passions in a way that might develop clarity on a professional path forward. These are great reasons, and I agree wholeheartedly, but they don’t apply to my kids.

My kids didn’t attend a brick and mortar school until they transferred their outside the box credit into university programs. We spent 8 of the most formative years of their childhoods traveling full time, across six continents and dozens of countries. Their entire education has been focused around building their dreams and pursuing their passions.

Does taking a Gap Year still matter?

It is my opinion that taking a Gap Trip is a vital part of any education. It builds confidence, provides a test flight, and develops independence in ways that forever change the course of a young life.

Gap Years Build Confidence

Most young people approach the bridge to adulthood with some anxiety. As parents, we wonder if we have done enough to prepare our kids for the “real world,” and we are nervous about their first forays into the wilds alone. It has been my observation that the only way to build confidence is through experience.

The only way to gain experience is by actually doing things. The only way to actually do things, is to bravely take a risk and conquer a hard thing. Of course there are risks, and then there are risks. Gap Years provide a way for students to take small, calculated risks as they develop in their confidence. A well chosen program will have this built into the experiential learning.

Your child may appear perfectly confident in her home environment and perfectly capable within the sphere you have raised her in, but we all know that the real world is bigger. A Gap Year is the perfect way to stretch her wings and expand her confidence.

Gap Year As a Test Flight

In our family we talk a lot about “test flights” and we don’t wait until a Gap Year to begin them. My kids fly alone between family members homes from a young age. At 13 they have all taken their first semi-solo trip or educational experience. By 15 they have all spent as much as a month completely on their own, traveling or studying, in some capacity. As they graduate high school we expect them to take a self-planned, self directed journey of at least a few months in order to flap their wings a bit and gain some experience with self governance in the larger world.

Of course the nature of a test flight is safety nets. We work with our students to plan their Gap experience and (unbeknownst to them) we put a few safety measures in place. Such as, reserve funds of cash, back up people in the countries they’re traveling to, and extra insurance on their trip and their stuff.

Gap Years Develop Independence

We can’t imagine, when our children are tiny, that the day will ever come when they don’t “need” us. But, if we’ve done our jobs properly, that day does come, and to my way of thinking, the sooner the better. Not because I don’t want my kids around or to have a voice in their lives, but because I want, more than anything, for them to be strong, successful and fulfilled in pursuing their dreams. Maintaining control in their lives longer than is absolutely necessary would cripple them in that. My goal as a mother is to give them roots, wings, and a nest to return to, but never be bound by.

In planning and executing a Gap Year your young person will develop and actively practice independence. When my daughter required stitches in Italy, I couldn’t help her. When her phone was stolen in Paris, she had to learn to file a police report. When my son waged war with a violent storm on the Mediterranean, he and his team were on their own. When he lost his wallet and his phone in Barcelona and was completely out of money, he had to figure it out. When another son needed to make his way, by bus, through the mountains of Guatemala his second language had to be strong enough to work it out fro himself. As painful as those sorts of experiences can be, they are the building blocks of independence. Until our young people actually stand on their own two feet, they won’t know if they can, and we won’t either.

There is a lot of hand wringing and lament over the state of the millennial generation. The general sentiment seems to be that young people can’t handle their own lives, or make their way in the “real world.” I would like to submit that one solution to that dilemma is the Gap Year. Young people who travel on their own develop confidence on their test flights and they grow in independence in ways that simply can’t happen without taking the leap outside of a box. Even a non-traditional box, like ours.

Photo Credit: Josh Felise

What’s the Point of a Gap Year?

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To be the campus stud, obviously!

No, just kidding. People pack their gap-year-bags with many unique motivators: gaining more experience or understanding of an area they’re thinking of pursuing in college, making money to pay for said-college, volunteering, or meeting people from halfway across the world.

There is actually no one point to a Gap Year – that’s the beauty of it. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. There’s no guidebook to tell you what to accomplish, how to get from A to B, or a review sheet for some standardized post Gap Year final exam.

The point of a Gap Year is up to YOU, the gapper yourself, to define.

Say QUOI?

Okay, we’ll back up a bit.

Did You Have A Say In Your Education?

Besides choosing one elective over the other during your upperclassmen years of high school, it is rare that the US system invites students’ opinions into the curriculum-deciding-parties. On the one hand, this is good, because they are experts and they have experience in defining what all youths need to assimilate in order to adult well. On the other hand, it does have a negative side effect – students become less invested in their learning and kind of forget how cool learning is in general (save for that one science lesson on how to make ice cream at home).

The reality is: most school administrations barely let students have a say in their lunch options, let alone in including classes in the liberal arts or other extensive courses. So if you don’t feel like your interests or passions were catered to in your general education since kindergarten, you’re in luck.

Now You Can Have a Say

All bets are off. The Gap Year is time that you, specifically, can devote to deepening your understanding of whatever the heck you want. Spanish? Cool – tons of programs in Latin America. The life of a farmer? Yup, Gap Year programs have you covered. General self-awareness and independence? Comin’ right up. Curious about working in construction? There’s an international job for that.

Fleshing out the point of YOUR Gap Year is some serious exercise in self awareness. Are you already breaking a sweat? But with time, reflections, conversations with mentors and your family, a chunk of research online to know all of your program options, you are bound to craft an adventure that can (and will!) reignite your interest in learning.

It’s Okay if You’re Not Ready

Taking the reigns of your life and your education is no small feat – especially considering that we’ve been herded around like cows from class to class and schedule to schedule all of our academic lives. It’s okay if the task seems more daunting than exciting. You can either choose to face it head on, balls to the wall and overcome it – or, alternatively, you can sign up for a Gap Year program that will help guide you through this process (which will likewise include balls to the wall learning and excitement, just served up a little differently).

Another perk of using a program like Carpe Diem Education or Thinking Beyond Borders is the instant community of fellow gappers that you gain. It’s fun to see the world, but it’s also really fun to see the world in the company of friends – people who are wrestling with life’s big questions, just like you. If the point of a Gap Year is up to you self-define, it helps to have friends and peers you can bounce ideas off of.

Should I do a Gap Year?

A Gap Year can bring tremendous value to a young person’s life. It’s not just taking cool photos, having epic experiences, and running out of pages in your passport. It’s a short term investment with long term gains. If you are calling to question the status-quo or norms of your life, you’re ripe for adventure. Exposing yourself to new ways of living, new ways of thinking, and new ways of cooperating will only further help you make “sense of it all.”

Everyone, especially you, should do a Gap Year.

The underlying goal of a Gap Year should be to explore: the world, your mind, your heart. Find what excites you to learn about. Chase that curiosity, whether it takes you around the corner or around the globe.

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt

Article contributed by Megan Lee

Why Taking a Gap Year Matters

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soloWhy does taking a Gap Year Matter?
The benefits of taking a Gap Year are many and blend together across multiple areas. Taking a structured Gap Year invariably serves to develop the individual into a more focused student with a better sense of purpose and engagement in the world.

From Joe O’Shea’s book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs:
“Some studies have looked at the academic performance of gap year students while in college. In Australia and the United Kingdom, economic researchers found that high school students who deferred their admission to college to take a Gap Year went to college (after their Gap Year) at the same rate as those who accepted an offer and intended to go straight there (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012). They also found that taking a Gap Year had a significant positive impact on students’ academic performance in college, with the strongest impact for students who had applied to college with grades on the lower end of the distribution (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012).”

Gap Year Interest and Enrollment Trends continue to grow. We don’t know exactly how many US students take a Gap Year each year, but amongst our sources we are able to say that interest and enrollment is growing substantively.

The following chart details what our respondents cited as their most significant influences when deciding to take a Gap Year.

2a Gap Year Influences

Academic Future

Taking a Gap Year matters because it has a direct impact on a person’s academic decision making and future performance. For most students, gap experiences have an impact on their choice of academic major and career – either setting them on a different path than before a Gap Year or confirming their direction (60% said the experience either “set me on my current career path/academic major” or “confirmed my choice of career/academic major”).

Gap Year students are perceived to be ‘more mature, more self-reliant and independent’ than non-Gap Year students. That maturity and self reliance are exactly the two things that most facilitate academic success at the university level. Some young people just need that extra year in the world to grow up a little bit more and build their skill set.

Taking a 1-year break between high school and university allows ‘motivation for and interest in study to be renewed. Let’s face it: Kids are tired by the time they graduate. When all a person has ever known is the four walls of a classroom and life has been lived between bells for 12 years, it’s understandable that they’d be ready for a break! In that year young people find the space to get excited about the next phase of education.

In the United Kingdom and in the United States, students who have taken a Gap Year are more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college, and this effect was seen even for Gap Year students with lower academic achievement in high school.

Employability & Job Satisfaction

Taking a Gap Year matters because employability and job satisfaction matter. They matter a lot. According to the studies, 88 percent of Gap Year graduates report that their Gap Year had significantly added to their employability and students who have taken a Gap Year overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs. Why is that? Haigler found that this was related to a less-selfish approach to working with people and careers.

What this means is that conventional wisdom is dead wrong. Conventional thinking says that it’s best to go straight into a university setting right from high school. To delay might mean that a student doesn’t focus and fails to return. It says that delaying entrance to the workforce, or professional pool will set a young person behind his peers in terms of earning power and job eligibility.

The research is telling us otherwise. Taking a Gap Year can be a great way to focus on what’s next in a young person’s education and to clarify her direction. Taking a Gap Year is a resume builder and gives a person a leg up in a very competitive market. Having taken the time to really think about which profession to enter, a Gap Year contributes to the longer term career happiness of the student.

That’s why taking a Gap Year matters.

Sources:

  • (Crawford and Cribb 2012, Clagett 2013)
  • [Birch, “The Characteristics of Gap-Year Students and Their Tertiary Academic Outcomes”, Australia, 2007]
  • [Milkround graduate recruitment Gap Year survey, http://www.milkroundonline.com]
  • [Karl Haigler & Rae Nelson, The Gap Year Advantage, independent study of 280 Gap Year students between 1997 – 2006]

Photo Credit: Micah Hallahan

Why a Gap Year is the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made.

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I took a Gap Year after college (before jumping into the “real world”) and it was, truly, the best decision I’ve made (next to adopting my cat and downloading the Uber app).

Traveling, for me, isn’t just for meeting people and taking cool pictures. It is preventative medicine for closed-mindedness and bigotry, and wholly challenges me to function at my greatest capacity as a heart-centered, human-oriented modern young adult.

Gap year students who choose to pursue higher education after traveling oftentimes become campus leaders and star students. Gap Year students who choose to pursue work or service after traveling oftentimes become intelligent and thoughtful advocates for change. Most Gap Year students return as strong, proactive, and civically engaged community members.

If you are considering taking a Gap Year, the advantages are yours to be written (and will ultimately span a list longer than a cartoon decree). Beyond your unique set of advantages connected to your personal gap year goals, here are some common perks you will enjoy.

Honesty With Yourself & Others

It’s okay if you’re not ready to run off to university (or an apprenticeship, or a manager-track job at a local chain). Maybe you don’t know what to study, maybe you don’t know where to go, maybe you aren’t sure about the price tag. College is a big decision, and not the best fit for every type of student.

Opting out of the norm takes courage; it’s an exercise in self-awareness and being true to yourself (which is easier said than done). It can sometimes mean disappointing your parents, or adding confusing elements to polite dinner conversation when your extended family is in town. It means rejecting the flow that your friends and classmates are likely pursuing.

Choosing to do a Gap Year after high school demonstrates maturity and honesty.

Find Your Path

There is value in system, but that doesn’t mean it is right for you. Have you been spoon-fed your need to go to university someday ever since you passed Algebra? Was it ever presented to you as an option, or was it always an expectation?

College rocks, and it can be an extremely rewarding and valuable experience. That said, if you don’t have a personal interest going to school beyond the fact that you know it’ll make your family (and friends, and grandma, and by extension, society) happy, then that is a pretty clear sign you aren’t meant to follow the norm.

Just because it is a good path for Sam, Sally, and Susie doesn’t mean it is a good path for YOU – don’t fall victim to societal expectations or pressures as you design your future.

Take the Reins

Having the confidence to make decisions that benefit the course of your life directly takes a lot of work. But you’ll be better for it, and each subsequent decision will feel like a major victory (one you can take all of the credit for).

As the cartoonist of Calvin and Hobbes so profoundly put:

­­­“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive… You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

Take the reins of your life in your own hands. Live your own life instead of someone else’s. You will gain independence, self-sufficiency, and clarity towards your purpose as you take time “off” for a Gap Year.

Adventure, Travel, & Foreign Cultures – Oh My!

Life abroad is one giant hairball of fun. Travel is an incredibly powerful tool for reflection; oftentimes, the insights you gather will happen so subtly and smoothly that you won’t even always realize the lessons you learn simply by living in, observing, and working alongside people from another culture.

These tiny pearls of wisdom will be delivered in the most unusual circumstances: brief conversations on your walk to your volunteer project with a local child, or witnessing the interaction between father/son. Maybe you’ll learn from observing westernization in otherwise foreign places, white water rafting the Nile, or feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the earth’s natural beauty. You never know which life lesson will be served up next.

Find Your Tribe

Another oft-overlooked and under-appreciated perk of taking a Gap Year is the community of individuals who will be introduced to and cross paths with over the course of your travels. Not only will you witness a network of people who live their lives differently, you will also find camaraderie with men and women from your own culture who are likewise skeptical of the beaten path.

Having mentors to inspire you to do things differently is a huge advantage for gap year students; creating a community of like-minded individuals a key element to avoid relapsing into a less conscious, unintentional lifestyle.

The Gift of Time

The biggest benefit of taking a gap year is having time “off” to flesh out your identity free of the influence of your typical environs. You will be free of distractions from every day responsibilities, conversations, and expectations to instead get a pretty strong sense of self.

When was the last time you asked yourself what you value? What you believe in? Where these truths come from, and how they will manifest in your life?

Knowing your inner workings can be intimidating, silence can be scary, and self-awareness can seem unattainable. But with the right frame of mind and surroundings to match, you will feel comfortable in your own skin (and with your own brain) (and with your own heart) before no time.

Now that you know your goals…

Chart Your Course… Your Way

Again: just because others have followed a certain way to attain a shared goal doesn’t mean you have to. Create an action plan that allows for accountability with plenty of self-love and patience.

The benefits of a Gap Year often look different for each individual braving the journey; however, one underlying outcome remains: individuals return with more awareness of themselves, others, and communities near and far.

Did you take a Gap Year? What were the advantages for you?

Photo Credit: Chris Lawton

Article contributed by Megan Lee