This is what my year of freedom looks like. Image from Flikr.

This is what my year of freedom looks like. Image from Flikr.

It’s weird to see pictures of my friends from college at o-week parties on Facebook. It’s weird that I’m not in them. Surreal, really. This week, most of the class of 2018 is returning to Washington and Lee University, ready to start their sophomore year. A year ago, I was in Lexington, Virginia, nervous and excited to start my career in higher education. A year later, I’m living in an apartment in Detroit, doing ten hours of service a day. I’m no longer a member of the class of 2018 at any school. I half-jokingly call myself a college drop out.

So, how’d I get here? School wasn’t what I wanted it to be. To keep it short, there was a disconnect between what I value culturally and what my collective university values. I was unhappy and dissatisfied. During spring term, I started to consider other options for the next year. I reactivated my application at school I had been accepted to the prior year and started looking into gap year options. Flash forward about a month and a half, and I was committed to a year of service in Detroit, Michigan.

My gap year officially started when I got my confirmation of withdrawal from my old university. That didn’t really feel like anything. When I moved to Detroit, reality started to set in, but it really hit home this past week as pictures of the joyful reunions of friends started to pop up all over my Facebook and Instagram feed. It’s weird that life goes on. While I’m making lunch to take to work tomorrow, my school friends are hanging up pictures in their dorm rooms. It’s kind of bizarre, but I’m beyond happy with my decision.

This is the first time since I was 4 that I haven’t been enrolled in school. It feels really, surprisingly good. I feel like I spent so much time studying and worrying about my social game that I lost a lot of perspective. I never really figured out who I was, I just jumped from one pool of social pressure to another. Being on my own is allowing me to think about what is really best for me. It’s healthy. I feel refreshed.

I’m also extremely glad that I am taking this gap year after already spending a year in college. I feel like for me, taking time off after high school would have been useless. College showed me who I am not and what I don’t like. Without that experience, I wouldn’t be able to embark of this year of growth. Sometimes you have to take a couple steps backward to take a big leap forward.

Making the decision was scary, though. When you google “mid-college gap year” not a lot comes up. There is more or less no information for those who want to push pause on their undergrad degree. There isn’t even a whole lot of information about transfer admissions (especially in comparison to typical admissions). That was scary for me. I obsessively planned out what my college life was going to be like during high school, so to suddenly be throwing that map out the window and not being able to reference paths taken by others made me uncomfortable. I hope that over the course of the next year, I’m able to help out with that.

Over the next ten months or so, I’ll be documenting my life as a mid-college gap year taker. The growth, the struggles, the joys, the city, the transfer process, all of it. It’s going to be a roller coaster. Heck, it already has been. I hope that my experiences will be able to help those who are struggling to feel connected both to their universities and in general. I also want to hold myself accountable for making the most of this year of relative freedom. Taking this year off is a gift I have given to myself, and to honor that properly, I must continuously remain mindful of my mental, physical, and emotional health. I’m learning how to take care of myself, and in that, how to take care of others. As my service position pushes me hugely out of my comfort zone, I have to learn how to stretch without becoming thin. When I want to be lazy and binge watch movies, I have to remind myself of the importance of researching potential transfer universities so that I can continue my growth beyond this year. Perhaps most importantly, I have to remember to call my mom and feed my fish.

Also, expect the occasional melodramatic monologue. I am still a teenager, after all (even though I am not in charge of paying for my own electricity, which is so adult).

This started out as a desperate attempt to escape the unsatisfactory reality that I lived in last year. I chose gap year because it felt like my only option. That’s okay, because now I realize how important this year is. You don’t have to have a groundbreakingly innovative reason for wanting to take a gap year. I did it because I wanted to transfer schools before my junior year. What you do have to do, at least in my opinion, is allow yourself to belong to the year more than the year belongs to you.

I think this is going to be a wild ride.

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the author

Kathleen is a Northern California native and incoming freshman at Washington & Lee University. She spends much of her free time obsessing over the future (not in a crystal ball way) and making plans to visit as many countries as humanly possible throughout her four years of college. She loves her dog Morton, Grey's Anatomy, and money. One day she hopes to become the perfect mix of Cristina Yang, Mindy Kaling, April Kepner, and Amy Poehler. Until then you can find her crying over how exciting life is and retaking the Myer's Briggs Test to make sure she really is ENTJ.

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