Zac Kramer, from Maryland, entered Wesleyan University in September as a college freshman after taking a gap year. We became friends in our Introduction to Mathematical Modeling class when somehow the topic of gap years came up, which goes to show that even after your gap year has ended, you inevitably continue to make friends with other gap year students because the gap year option is such an incredible experience.
Zac brings up several insightful points about the gap year option, for those of you who are considering it. This is my interview with Zac about his gap year of traveling around the world:
So Zac, how did you first learn about gap years, and when did you decide to take a gap year yourself?
I guess I’ve always known gap years were an option. No one from my area really takes gap years. Maybe 1 or 2 kids from my high school every year, and there’s a huge rush to go to college. I decided a few days before the Wesleyan deadline that it would probably be really good for me to get away from everything I’ve known for a while.
What were your reasons for taking a gap year?
- Beat the college rush, i.e. the Fomo everyone has about going to college immediately
- Take a break from structured education, testing, academia in general and let my intellectual appetite have a chance to recover after highschool
- See the world, because now, between the two huge commitments of high school and college, is the best time to do it
- Catch up on reading
- Grow and mature
Did your parents support your decision right away or did it take some time? Did your extended family? Friends?
My friends expected something like a gap year out of me, but my parents took a little bit of convincing. I had to show them that I just wanted to get some real world experience and that I would be coming back for sure and had nothing to lose by being a year older/wiser
Did you apply to college during your senior year or during your gap year?
I applied during senior year.
I did the same, submitted college apps during my senior year and applied to defer my acceptance to Wesleyan. Most people apply during their senior year, too, and only later realize they’d be better off taking a gap year. So tell us, what were some of the adventures you experienced during your gap year?
I backpacked in Australia and explored most of the east coast cities and the coast line. I scuba dived for the first time in the Great Barrier Reef, which was surreal.
I hiked and lived out of a car/tent for a month in New Zealand, driving 6-8 hours per day to see the amazing natural features of New Zealand. I went skydiving there for the first time and did one of the Great Walks, which are 40 mile treks that have some of the most incredible and beautiful views I’ve ever seen.
I volunteered in Thailand farming rice, digging rice patties, planting banana trees, cementing steps. Mostly rural community building stuff. It was really rewarding work, and Thailand is such a strange and amazing place. I also did a Muay Thai camp for 2 weeks, which was brutal and a lot of fun.
I went to the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and mostly just hung out, read, and met the locals in Siem Riep and Phnom Penh.
After a birthright trip and a week hanging out on the beach in Tel Aviv, I lived on a kibbutz in Israel about 300 meters from the Lebanese border for about three months, working in an apple packing factory, at the orchards, and as a dishwasher in a kitchen for about $3 a day. I spent a lot of time hiking and running and sitting in sniper towers looking over the mountains, writing, and getting close with the european volunteers there.
That sounds incredible! How did you ever figure out you wanted to do all those things?
I sort of just felt it out, asked myself where I wanted to go, and made some judgement calls based on expenses, convenience, and safety.
Was money a factor in what you did during your gap year? That’s a main concern of many students considering the gap year option: “How can I afford a gap year?”
Definitely, I worked all summer to make the money to travel.
It must’ve felt great to really earn your gap year experience with your own money. Of all the things you did and all the places you visited, what was your favorite part of your gap year experience?
Probably just the freedom, the self-reliance, the problem solving that it takes to feed yourself, find a place to sleep, and get across a country in a day. My favorite place was probably New Zealand. There’s no way to put it into words, but the nature in that country is so shockingly beautiful that I still feel inspired when I think about it.
What was one thing you didn’t expect to happen to you during your gap year?
I didn’t expect to change as much as I did. I didn’t even think I had changed. It was only when I got back that it became more obvious that I was just a different person in a lot of ways.
That’s the most surprising part about taking a gap year; you can’t imagine how much you’ll grow and change from getting out of the system. In the end, do you think taking a gap year was the right choice for you?
Undoubtedly. I didn’t lose anything but a freshman year of being confused. I’m more excited about my studies now. I feel less of a need to party and my work ethic is better. I’m just generally more responsible and mature now.
Were there any particular lessons you learned during your gap year, or did it change you in some meaningful way?
The world is a hard place for some people. As an American, white, middle-class, male, I have it as good as possible in this world. I’m a lot more sensitive and open to what’s going on in the world, and I feel less American than I did before.
Now you’re more of a global citizen. That’s a great characteristic to bring to the table as a college freshman. What are you doing now, after your gap year?
Studying. I’ve decided that I do want to be a part of the capitalist society, and I want to make a name for myself and work hard. I’m more excited to learn than I ever have been, I don’t think that’s going to change.
Would you recommend a gap year to other people?
Anyone who is even the slightest bit unsure about college should take a year off. There’s a whole world out there to see. Traveling independently definitely takes confidence and a willingness to get FREAKED OUT, but anyone can join a program and just do something different. The US is very America-centric if that makes sense. We have no idea what’s really going on in the rest of the world and how different other countries and people really are; get out there and see for yourself.