We all took time off for different reasons. Some of us worked, some of us travelled, some of us just went home. Some of us did a traditional gap year before college, some of us did something very different right in between. But no matter what, our gap year really helped us discover ourselves, what we wanted in life and helped us explore more about the world. Below are some stories from current and previous students, all of whom took gap years. To get to know more of us, look at our board member bios and our mentor bios.
Lelabari Giwa-Ojuri ’14, Los Angeles, CA
Mathey College, Near Eastern Studies and Arabic Language & Culture Certificate
Nis and Novi Sad, Serbia, World Learning; Bridge Year Program
I chose to apply to the Bridge Year program because it provided hands-on experience working with youth and exploring peace and reconciliation issues within a non-American context and a transitioning democracy. Out of the four countries, I knew least about Serbia and its culture, language and history and I wanted to seek the most challenging learning opportunity. During my gap year in Serbia I lived with homestay families, studied Serbian and worked within two NGOs which focused on youth work and human rights. My first service placement was with Omladina JAZAS-a Novi Sad, an HIV/AIDS education and prevention network focused on targeting high school and college students. The second was with Club for Youth Empowerment 018 geared to promote Roma “Gypsy” inclusion, gender equality, and to encourage intercultural dialogue. Collaborating with my Serbian and Roma peers on community projects was a wonderful experience and which truly challenged me to assess my understanding of community needs and what it means to be a volunteer. Spending nine months in Serbia, allowed me to form extremely personal and close relationships and gain a deeper understanding of local culture than I had been able to form during previous shorter service trips.
I have continued to develop my Serbian language skills in BCS 105 and have enriched my understanding of Balkan culture, history and political landscape in my freshman seminar, a literature course focused on understanding Balkan identity. Whether in a class about international relations or radical islamist movements or in a club meeting about LGBT rights, my Bridge Year experience continues to inform my learning in academics and civic engagement.
Gaya Morris ‘14
Mathey College, prospective Comparative Literature major
Sebikotane, Senegal; Global CitizenYear
I chose to take a gap year because I wanted to experience the things I was interested in, before going off to study them in a classroom: foreign languages, cultures and ways of life, and the work of NGO’s in the developing world. I was also a little burnt out from high school and wanted take advantage of the opportunity to do something fun and adventurous. With these goals in mind I did online research looking for specific volunteer opportunities with organizations abroad, however I ended up applying the program Global Citizen Year. As part of the founding class of fellows to this program I traveled to Senegal for seven months. The first month we (I was one of 6 fellows) spent in the capital city of Dakar attending daily language classes in Wolof and French at the Baobab Center, a language school which receives students from several college study abroad programs, as well as independently. After Dakar, we were assigned to host families in smaller towns just outside of Dakar and “apprenticeships” in areas of development work that fit our interests and skill levels. For me this meant volunteering in a local elementary school every day, where I started out by simply observing and shadowing teachers, and eventually dedicated my efforts to helping the school revive its abandoned computer lab and library. The highlight of my experience was definitely designing and leading reading activities with students in school library. Outside of the school day, I helped organize and lead an English club for high schoolers my age, and attended meetings of a group of local women learning to read and write. I spent the majority of my free time eating, cooking, cleaning, watching tv and talking with my host family, whom I love and miss dearly to this day!
On my gap year I discovered many new passions – a passion for elementary school education in the developing world, a passion for teaching children to read, a passion for a sharp, rhythmic language called Wolof, a passion for chopping onions into the palm of my hand and scrubbing clothes in a bucket, in just a few inches of murky water, skin prickly from the soap and the sun. I concluded this year of discovery and challenge so completely excited for college – to open the books and even Microsoft Word, meet new people, and stumble on more unexpected challenges, and pursue new and old passions and interests in an academic context. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in traveling to Senegal, or in the program Global Citizen Year. Please note that GCY does offer financial aid.
Agnes Cho ’14
Forbes College, Anthropology & Latin American Studies
Urubamba, Peru; ProPeru; Bridge Year Program
While the majority of my friends were beginning the nine months of their freshmen year, I was in a small town in Peru, working with a volunteer-based nonprofit called ProPeru. In addition to living with a home stay family (who I still call on a monthly basis) and taking Spanish classes, I volunteered with projects that ranged from: designing and implementing an arts-based curriculum at a local preschool; organizing a women’s group for domestically abused women and finding markets for their knitted products; and creating an after-school theater and arts group for children in the primary school. My gap year was a relief from the academic treadmill that I saw as my immediate future and an opportunity for me, in a very formative time of my life, to learn the cultures of another country, master a language, form some of the closest relationships in my life, and give back in the form of service. Especially at a place like Princeton, it is easy to get caught up in the academic and social bubble, but a time away from school helped me to put many things in perspective about what I want to take away from my Princeton experience. I am now getting a Latin American Studies certificate and studying abroad in Cuba my sophomore spring semester, all in order to better understand the region of the world in which I spent my gap year.
Naomi Zucker ‘14
Mathey college, Anthropology major
Brazil, independent, WWOOF
During my gap year, I spent 5 months in Brazil travelling, eating fruit, trying to speak Portuguese, searching for waterfalls, and realizing that English is complicated and teaching is challenging. I spent a couple of months getting my bearings living with a friend in the large but fairly calm city of Belo Horizonte, taking Portuguese classes at the university, eating freshly-fallen mangoes off the ground, looking totally ridiculous at dance-aerobics classes (kind of like Brazilian Zumba), and gaining cultural capital by watching the novela, dancing forro, listening to music and exploring the city. Leaving BH, I travelled around a bit in the Northeast, before settling in to WWOOF on an incredible farm in southern Bahia. The farm was a permaculture project/cacao farm/commune in a beautiful place filled with beautiful people, and days passed in a peaceful blur of cooking on our small fire, eating long meals all together, planting and tending the garden, taking care of fruit trees, making chocolate, swimming in the river, sleeping in hammocks, reading and writing by candlelight and talking and singing late into the night…leaving the lush tropical feel of the farm, I headed to the northern interior of the province, to a small town where I would work teaching English at a community/cultural center. I spent my time planning and teaching classes, playing capoeira, hiding from the too-hot sun, helping out at the local agricultural coop and learning with and from the local and international volunteers.
In high school, I participated in an ESL program and many of the students I worked with came from different countries through the Rotary Club Youth Exchange. Getting to know people from so many different places made me want see more of the world. I was feeling burned out from high school and decided to take the opportunity to travel before University. I chose Austria because I wanted to go somewhere were I didn’t speak the language and Europe presented more potential for traveling and skiing. I was then able to go through the Rotary Club. I took a two-week intensive German course when I arrived in Austria before starting eleventh grade in a local high school where everything was in German. I also spent the whole year living with an Austrian family. The Rotary program has 83 students from around the world in Salzburg, Austria, making a huge international community with people from 17 different countries. Because of my time spent in Salzburg, I was inspired to learn Spanish and through the program, I was able to participate in a Rotary Eurotour to 11 different countries.
To fund my year off, I used independent academic scholarships, which supported “educational” experiences. Rotary Club also subsidizes students $5-6,000. I can’t fathom being at the end of my sophomore year without having had this experience. Being plugged into another culture caused me to learn a lot about myself and reach a different level of maturity and readiness that I would not have had without the year. In terms of academics, I decided to study Spanish and have just begun taking courses at Princeton.
Avaneesh Narla ’17
I participated in Princeton’s Bridge Year Program in Peru, through which I spent nine months in a rural town. The main component of the program was community service, my project being the construction of cleaner burning stoves. I learnt a lot, and had tons of fun; and even though I have just started college again, I am already realising how valuable spending a year in a non-academic setting has been for me personally in approaching my choices and challenges.