Some background information
During 2011-2012, I spent an unforgettable gap year in Grenoble, France, through API. I lived with a lovely French host family while studying French language and culture at the Université Stendhal III. Through my courses and my interactions with my host family, my French improved significantly. I made incredible friends from around the world, many of whom I am still good friends today. I travelled extensively, exploring different regions of Europe and North Africa, learning about different cultures, and seeking new experiences. My year in Grenoble provided me with an abundance of memorable experiences and life lessons.
Why I took a gap year, how my time in Grenoble shaped me, and why every student deserves a similar experience
While I was a student in high school, I never questioned the prospect of taking a gap year. Discouraged by the idea of university, exhausted from the overflow of school work and the lack of free time due to the demands of high school, and overwhelmed by academic and social pressures, I wanted a break. University sounded nice, but for the future. The only idea that I had of the year after high school was one of relaxation, of working on my second language, and of exploring a part of the world.
Despite my few expectations, I had no idea that I would grow so much from living in Grenoble for one year. I was already familiar with France and the French language (I had lived in France, close to the border of Switzerland, for around two years as a child), but I had never visited Grenoble. The combination of “leaving the nest” and exploring a new region made life suddenly exponentially more exciting. After years of succumbing to others’ expectations and taking for granted West Coast American life, my view of the world in its entirety opened up a little, and I remember thinking a couple of times, “So this is real life!” Through experiencing a new lifestyle and travelling, I realized that “there is a whole world out there!” and I began to question and look past generally accepted factors of American society, such as achievements, stress, work, money, and future-oriented lifestyles. I can confidently admit that spending even just one year in another society contributed to my realistic and healthier view of life.
Even so, I did not become discouraged by North American society and the opportunities it offers. I simply began to look at it from a new perspective, recognizing the importance of spending time on things that I love, of relaxing and taking time for myself, and of learning as much as I can. During my year in Grenoble, I realized that life comprises mainly experiences, and that there is no point in purposely putting one’s self through bad experiences. I also realized the importance of pursuing interesting experiences, especially those that open us up to other cultures and ways of life. I have taken these mentalities with me to university, where I actively search for good and interesting experiences to pursue. I take classes that I truly enjoy, I try to learn as many languages as I can, and I attend cultural events hosted by student groups. I recognize the value of expanding one’s social circle outside of the university bubble, so I spend time exploring the city surrounding my university and search for extracurricular non-student-oriented activities to join. Most importantly, my desire to pursue new experiences, languages, cultures, and life outside of my university has resulted in another year of exchange; I am currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark for a year, and I plan to complete my Masters degree in Europe!
I believe that every student could benefit from a gap year experience like mine. Exploring new parts of the world, expanding your mind by learning a new language, making international friends, and gaining knowledge and understanding from other parts of the world will play a part in shaping you as a person. You may not gather the same realizations that I did, but you will certainly accumulate many valuable experiences, memories, and ideas for future opportunities. You should take a gap year and judge the benefits for yourself!