Erlend Knutsen, Wildlife Biology student, handling an owl at the Cascades Raptor Center.

Erlend Knutsen, Wildlife Biology student, handling an owl at the Cascades Raptor Center.

Norwegian student Erlend Knutsen is currently studying Wildlife Biology at Flathead Valley Community College in Whitefish, Montana. He and my best friend Lily met each other while volunteering at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Otjiwarongo, Namibia. While Lily and I both took gap years in the same year (you can check out our gap year stories here and here), I was excited to meet someone such as Erlend with a multiple-year gap year story as an international student. Here is our interview:

So Erlend, how did you first learn about gap years? When did you decide to take a gap year yourself?

In Norway, same as in the US I guess, it is very common to take a gap year or two after high school, so I guess it is something anyone my age would know of. I decided I wanted to take a gap year not long before I graduated from high school.

What were your reasons for taking a gap year, or why did you not matriculate directly after high school graduation? Did you have any initial doubts about taking a gap year?

Mainly I could not find any studies in Norway that sounded appealing at the time. Instead of wasting my time and money on an study that potentially could have projected me onto a career path I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue, I decided to put school on hold for a while. Of course I did have doubts, but I decided that going to school at this point, being so unsure in what I wanted to do, would be a waste.

Did your parents support your decision right away or did it take some time? Did your extended family? Friends?

I cannot remember whether or not my parents supported me, but I am very independent, and I think they knew that there was nothing they could say that would change my decision. As far as I remember, they did not say anything, though I am sure that several members of my family were sort of displeased with my decision, as education is highly regarded in my family. However, I cannot remember anyone in my family saying much about my decision. And if they did, I must have forgotten.

I did have some friends commenting on my not going to college after high school. Most people at my high school went straight to college, so I was part of a vast minority. But my good friends supported me without question.

Did you apply to college during your senior year or during your gap year?

I did apply to college during my senior year of high school, and I got into the schools where I applied. I continued to apply for college during my gap year, however; my main focus was to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. So I spent more time reading about educations and career paths than actually applying.

What did you do during your gap year?

I worked as a bob-pilot (4-man and 2-man) and a skeleton instructor in my hometowns. I also participated in national championships in 2-man bobsledding.

How did you figure out what you wanted to do?

My main motivation was to earn and save up money, so when I did figure out what I wanted to study, I had some extra cash. The bobsledding job I came over by chance.

What was your favorite part of your gap year experience?

The friends I made, and my new found passion for bobsledding!

What was one thing you didn’t expect to happen to you during your gap year?

I certainly didn’t expect to become a professional bobsledder.

Was there anything you regretted or wish you’d done differently?

Not really. I am happy where I am now, of what I have accomplished and my experiences. Who knows where I would I would have been without them.

Do you think taking a gap year was the right choice for you?

Definitely. If I had not taken a gap year I would have missed out on a lot of awesome experiences, as well as not being sure that the career path I was choosing was the right one. My gap year gave me time to reflect on where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. I guess I matured a lot during that year, which enabled me to make a more well-thought-out decision in what I wanted to study.

What are you doing now, after your gap year?

Right now I am studying Wildlife Biology in Montana. After my gap year I pursued an animal keepers education out of Denmark, an education from which I graduated in March this year (2013).

Would you recommend a gap year to other people? To whom? Why?

If it feels right; yes, it is such a personal decision, so it is hard to say. But if you are unsure about what you want to do, or if you just feel like an adventure after high school, I would most definitely recommend taking a gap year. Either way, it is never to late to go explore the world, even after or between degrees. Don’t let your friends or family hold you back. The world is at your feet. Spread your wings and fly.

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