On the day I left for my gap year trip with Art History Abroad, I felt terrified. I cried while I sat in the terminal, waiting to board my flight. I was on my way to Italy, and for the first time in my life, I was on my own.
I had been accepted to UC Berkeley for the spring semester, rather than the fall, when my sister and all my friends would be starting. Gap years are common in Europe, but not many American students take one. I was worried. What would I be missing? Would I feel left behind?
As soon as I arrived in Italy, however, I knew that my time there would give me just as much as a semester of college, if not more. My gap year course was my first chance to see the world as an adult. It would teach me to make friends with people from across the world, to take care of myself, and to discover new passions. Every day felt like an adventure, as we ate, laughed, and learned our way through a dozen Italian cities, and I felt more independent and excited than I ever did in high school. I learned how to take risks: to get lost in the alleys of Venice, to dance in a nightclub, to sit in front of a monument or a sculpture and try to sketch it, despite the belief that I had absolutely no artistic ability.
I think it’s exciting that more American students are now taking gap years. College has been challenging and exhilarating, but I know that my experience with AHA is the reason I’m getting so much out of it. On the trip, I began to discover a new, independent identity—an identity I continue to explore in college. When I started at Berkeley, I already knew how to take care of myself and how to challenge myself with new experiences. My Italian journey is the reason I’ve been able to make so many friends in college, and it’s the reason I’m studying Urban Design. I’ve found the perfect niche in a place I never expected to feel so comfortable. I’ll remember my trip as not only one of the most exciting experiences of my life, but as one that helped me learn who I am and what I can do.
For more thoughts on taking a Gap Year and its benefits, see this article by founder of the AGA (American Gap Association) Ethan Knight.