Tips on dealing with homesickness

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by Maddi

1. Get out of your room:

It’s so easy to spend hours watching netflix or reading in bed, eating the boxes of thin mints that the strategically-placed girl scout stands guilted you into buying and drinking your day’s worth of nutrients in Emergen-C’s.

It’s so tempting to change into pajamas after class at 2pm and procrastinate your schoolwork by hibernating until dinner. But this temptation, especially towards the beginning of the year, is one of the biggest catalysts of homesickness. Homesickness is normal and often prevalent no matter how far away from home you go. That being said, going out of state or across the country really limits the opportunity to go home, so it’s best to find methods to deal with feeling homesick.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to deal with homesickness is to occupy yourself with something outside of your room. Whether it’s going on a run, going to get ice cream, or finding a pretty view to draw a picture of, forcing yourself to leave your room helps you adapt and get used to your surroundings.

2. Join a sport team or club similar to what you did at home

Although I’ve met the majority of my friends through clubs or teams that are different from what I participated in in High school, I’ve found that playing soccer here has been a great way to still feel connected to home. Whether it’s an Intramural, club, or varsity sport, doesn’t really matter as long as it isn’t adding extra stress.

Playing a sport or joining a club similar to what you did before college is comforting yet allows you to individualize that experience even more for yourself – which i have found to be really rewarding.

3. Join a group that is outside of your comfort zone:

While joining a familiar activity can be comforting, becoming a part of a group outside of your comfort zone differentiates life at college from life at home – which really helps the adaptation process.

For me, my unfamiliar experience was joining the Cal quidditch team. While yes it is nerdy and weird, it is the activity that compiles many of my different interests into one and has thoroughly changed my experience here at Cal. Little did I know that quidditch is a highly physical and competitive sport that takes part in the United States Quidditch association and has the close team atmosphere that I had always loved about soccer. Combining this competitive team atmosphere and my love for Harry Potter, quidditch turned out to be the perfect place for me to meet the people who I had most in common with – now my best friends.

Major Blues

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“Be where you are, otherwise you will miss your life” – Buddha

by Natalie

When I started college a year and half ago here at Concordia, I was dead set on being a Music Major.  I wanted to study music and theatre and be become a talented musical theatre star because of it.

Then I started taking Music Theory. And I hated it.

After clawing my way through the first semester, dragging myself to that class every Monday and Wednesday at 8 am, and coercing my classmates to help me with the homework, I decided that I was no longer interested in studying music.

I called my dad, crying, the night before I was supposed to register for spring semester and he granted me wisdom I have since shared with many of my friends and classmates:  your major doesn’t matter.  What you do with your life is not predestined by what it says on your Bachelor’s degree.  So take a few classes in fields that have nothing to do with your major and see if you love something more than you love what you’re already doing.

So I signed up for a political science class, changed my major, and started making plans to go to law school and run for office.

I chose Political Science (“Poli-Sci”) because I knew I could make a living as a lawyer or politician. I knew politics were something I was passionate about (if you’re interested in reading some of my thoughts on politics, feel free to hit up my personal blog).

I figured it was a path that made sense for me.  I loved to read.  I loved to argue.  I was passionate about social and legal change and I was intent on making that change happen.  I decided that I would go forward and become a lawyer for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and go on to run for office someday.

I would marry my significant other, a man who wants to go into theatre, and provide for my future family.

I convinced myself to go all in.  I spent afternoons looking up law schools I would want to go to and could get in to.  I got ahead of myself by about twenty years and, by doing so, I freaked myself out about being a Poli-Sci major.

I went to International Politics a total of 8 times that semester; I spent the other class periods in my bed, panicking about how hard that path was.  I didn’t love it.  I was scared of it. Terrified that I wouldn’t be successful at this and that my future would crumble because of it, I let it consume my life for three months.  My fear of potential failure and a lack of confidence in my abilities pushed me into a downwards spiral that took months to remedy.

I am here today to tell you, dear readers, that you should never let it get that bad.

Remember what I didn’t in my time of major turmoil and future planning: it matters less than you think.  Take the classes that you love.  Take the classes that seem fascinating and worthwhile – not just the ones you think are “necessary.”  Don’t be afraid to drop a class or ask for help; your academic advisor is there just for that.  Don’t be afraid of changing your major; you can change it as many or as few times as you like – you’ll still be successful if you’re willing to work hard.

Every school is different in how they handle the semantics and logistics of changing majors.  But every school will help you do it.  Some schools might be less helpful than others, but your education is yours and yours alone.  If you decide to change your direction, don’t let academic advisors or administrators tell you that you can’t.

It is your money and your time that you are investing in this education and you get to decide what you want to do with it.

This year, I am an English Writing and Theatre Arts double major and I love it.  I’m taking classes that I’m passionate about and not worrying about how much money I’m going to make or whether or not my grades are good enough for me to go to Stanford.

I am focusing on being happy and healthy and being successful here and now.

Studying Abroad – The Process

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By Ariana

I think studying abroad is something almost every college student, if asked or surveyed, would say they would be interested in. Actually partaking in studying abroad is something only about 10 percent of college students do, depending on where you search on the web.

It is important to be active in your plans to study abroad.

In my case I knew I wanted to do it, I figured out a time when I could go (with my academics, and how long I wanted to go for) and then did some research on where to go. It doesn’t have to be as extensive as you would think, as along as you’ve narrowed down some countries, and chosen a time frame (year, semester, summer or winter program) it becomes possible to sit down and compare the ins and outs of programs.

My college has a study abroad website with a list of all the programs offered, as well as some affiliated programs, which is where I found my programs. As far as choosing the time frame, I worked with my academic counselor to formulate a plan for going abroad and still graduating on time.

I had a tough time deciding between two programs – one in Greece and another in Spain. I have always wanted to go to Greece, but the Greek programs that I looked at were more expensive and offered less within the program. When I looked at Spain they offered so many more excursions and it had a better price tag!

So now I am here!

The next step after deciding where you want to go is going through the application process. I would recommend applying early.

Learn from my experience – I waited till the last minute to apply,  even though I was well aware of the deadline, I just had a little self-doubt. In the end it worked out, but it added stress to the process.

I think having doubts or fear is a normal part of the process, traveling to new country by yourself and then living there for three months or maybe even longer is a scary thought, but I knew I was going to do it, even if it was the last day I could apply.

Side Note: You can’t ever let fear take over your life and it’s important to be aware of it, and not let it stand in your way of opportunity, knowledge and growth. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take your life somewhere else for a bit, take advantage of it!

The reason why I also think you should apply early is because getting a visa is not exactly easy and the process can be long.

I would advise you to try to be as proactive as you can with filling out all your paper work or anything that’s needed from your program, getting letters of recommendation, filing out financial forms, getting your passport (if you don’t have one already, or getting an old one renewed) and getting classes reviewed by your college to ensure the credits will transfer (if they aren’t already in the system).

But I promise, all this work will pay off, because the world is waiting for you!

Until next time!

-Ariana

January Q: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about college for high school students?

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This year we’ve launched a monthly question feature, where our bloggers respond to questions from current high school students. Our January question is: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about college for high school students?

Maddi (Cal-Berkeley): The biggest misconception is that everyone drinks or parties and that a social stigma exists surrounding those who don’t go crazy; the party scene can be a lot more controlled and is definitely a choice.

Julie (U of MN – TC):  College will be easy. (It isn’t impossble! But it’s also hard work!)

Ariana (UMN Duluth):  That everyone likes to party and you have to drink otherwise it’s not a fun time. But now I think it’s the kind of people who you spend your time with… Get to know people that can have a good time all the time, without drinking.

Ellie (McGill):   That making friends will be difficult like it might have been in high school. Being in college gives so many opportunities to meet people, your friends will find you. Trust me.

Home for the Holidays

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By Guanani

Coming home for winter break after being away for college can be unexpectedly disorienting.

This was especially the case for me, having chosen a school more than a thousand miles away from Minneapolis in Portland, Oregon. Even though I’m close to and on good terms with my family, suddenly being surrounded by them after months of figuring out how to live on my own was more of a challenge than I expected. I immediately missed the personal freedoms college offers; being able to go anywhere without having to tell anyone, the privacy of making my own decisions, and the spontaneous socializing opportunities I had gotten used to at Reed.

After the ridiculously busy last few weeks of the semester, I was looking forward to spending time with my family and having nothing to do for several days. But once I had finally turned in my last final exam, packed up my warm clothes and gotten off the plane into the chilly Minneapolis air, I mostly felt lost and confused.

I have two homes now: the familiar Minneapolis I grew up in and Portland, whose streets are full of memories and new friends and freedom to explore all kinds of new challenges. After weeks of going full throttle, always having some kind of assignment to work on or outing to participate in, being home almost felt stifling.

With free time to spare, I suddenly didn’t know what to do with myself.

Eventually the feeling subsided. I found projects to work on, spent the holidays with family and friends from high school, and came to feel much better about being home. But I know that initial shock of returning will only get stronger the more time I spend away. My new life at college that I worried so much about the summer after high school has become my normal life, and I can’t help but be a little sad that I don’t feel as at home here in Minneapolis as I used to.

Curious, I asked my friends who go to different colleges how they felt about coming home. Everyone had their version of similar feelings, which boiled down to wanting to stay connected to their childhood home and family but also not wanting to spend too much time there. My parents also noticed that I was talking much more about Portland this year, and that I seemed bored at home. My dad said he understood, but was clearly sad. “I’m not as important in your life anymore,” he lamented. “But make sure to keep visiting. We miss you over here.”

After some reflection, I’ve decided I probably won’t stay home during all of winter break next year. But I would at least like to visit for the holidays, when everyone else comes together. Even though I feel increasingly separate from them, there are still many unique things I love about my family and Minneapolis.

I know it’s important to spend time here, at least for short visits, and stay connected.

Creating a Home in College

home

by Guanani

There’s plenty of college advice floating around about leaving home and transitioning to college, but very little about what it means to create a home for yourself once you’re there.

One of the most valuable things I’ve come to learn is the importance of creating a home; without a solid place to come back to, physically and emotionally, it’s easy to feel lost, confused, and not sure how to ground all the hard work and exploration that a college experience involves. Home isn’t just something you find, but something you actively create according to your needs and values.

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Here are a few things that make a home feel like home for me:

  1. A space where you feel comfortable and relaxed.

This can be tricky if you find yourself in a loud, cramped dorm situation, but home doesn’t necessarily have to be where you’ve been assigned to live.

Look for a place where you feel calm and can unwind from the day. If you have a friend who lives in a quieter area, spend time in their dorm. Maybe there’s a pleasant spot on campus with a cool tree, or a corner in the library you can return to on a regular basis that can serve as a home away from home.

  1. Headquarters for your life.

Home is the axis that supports the rest of your life, whether that means a pit stop for snacks or a nap, a cozy corner where you can reflect, or just a place where you keep your things. Ideally home in college is conveniently near your classes, friends, and sources of food and other necessities.

The important thing is for it to be close enough that you feel connected to the greater college community while still having your own personal space.

  1. People or a community to come home to.

This has been by far the most important part of creating a home in college for me. Feeling like I belong and having people to talk to, study, and go on adventures with became easier as time went on and new friendships were formed. Living in a distinct community without your family offers you the unique opportunity to build a family of friends to support each other when things get difficult, do homework with, or just spend time together on a regular basis.

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Making a home takes time and effort.

It doesn’t happen overnight, and finding the right circumstances and strong relationships to make it happen can be hard or even frustrating in the midst of all the various challenges college brings. Home should be a focal point in the constellation of your life, something you can rely on, feel safe in, and come back to over and over again.

As you move on from living with families and discover the possibilities offered by independent living, don’t forget to consider what creating a good home means to you.

November Q: What do you miss most about being a High School student?

HS

This year we’ve launched a monthly question feature, where our bloggers respond to questions from current high school students. Our November question is: What do you miss most about being a High School student?

Julie (U of MN – TC): Being surrounded by a close group of friends.

Lydia (MCAD): The ability to miss a class if you are ill and being able to make it up the next day. There is a zero absence policy at MCAD.

Ariana (UMN Duluth): I miss not having to do so much work. And being debt free!

Alia (MCTC): What I miss most from high school is having a school locker. There are lockers at my college, but not everyone gets one and they are super small. I miss having a locker to put my stuff in.

Maddi (Cal-Berkeley): The free time to do leisure activities; painting, working out, reading for pleasure etc.

Lucillia (St. Thomas): The thing I miss most about being a high school student is the amount of responsibility. Now that I am in college as an adult, I have many more responsibilities and sometimes it is too much.

Sleep Challenge!

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by Lucillia 

People are not lying when they talk about a lack of sleep in college.

Pulling all-nighters to study, 8 am classes and chatting with your roommate until 2am are all contributing factors. Getting a good night’s rest can be really challenging.

For me, I have always put sleep first because I have found that I am never productive when I am tired. But there is a difference between getting sleep and getting quality sleep. The latter is not something that I have been so good at prioritizing.

When I saw that the Wellness Center at my school was hosting a sleep challenge, I thought it would be a good thing to try. For this 21-day challenge, we were told to download a sleeping app that tracks the quality of your sleep. Basically, you keep your phone next to you all night and it measures your movement while you sleep.

Besides this, we were also given a calendar with different tips to help us sleep better. For the first week, our goal was to develop a routine before we go to bed. For this, they recommended doing things like brushing your teeth, putting away your phone 20 minutes before you fall asleep, getting your backpack ready for the next day and doing a light exercise before turning the lights out!

The goal for the second week was to try and wake up at the same time every morning. No matter if you have to be to work by 7 am or don’t have class until 1 pm – the consistency adds value. I have heard that this will eventually train your body to wake up at that time, even without an alarm.

Can you imagine?!

Finally, the goal for the third week was to try and get a sufficient amount of quality sleep each night.

Anyways, six days into the sleep challenge and my sleep app had calculated that my sleep quality was only 60%. I didn’t even know it was that bad. All of my graphs throughout the night told me that I was waking up about every hour, even without knowing it.

I usually go to bed at a decent time every night, so my goals going forward are to put my phone away 20 minutes before I lay down and to see what I can do to stay in a deeper sleep throughout the night.

Any other ideas for a good night’s sleep? Feel free to comment and let me know!

Also, the app is called Sleep Cycle (for iPhone), for anyone interested in tracking how well they sleep and joining the challenge!

The Transfer Student Transition

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by Cara

Sometimes, I feel like I’m a freshman again.

I pronounce the names of campus buildings wrong. I panic when random people ask me for directions to the library. I almost walked into the wrong classroom during the second week of class.

Last month, I started my sophomore year of college and my first semester at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

As you may remember, I attended the University of St. Thomas during my freshman year and decided to transfer because it wasn’t the right fit for me. I hoped to have more academic and social opportunities at the U of M, and so far I am pleased with my experience!

I didn’t have transfer orientation until the end of June. Compared to my freshman year orientation, this year’s orientation was shorter and more focused on class selection. I researched and printed out two schedule options before my orientation, so when I finally met with my academic advisor it was easy to explain what classes I wanted to take.

Since I’m done with the majority the U of M’s general education requirements, every class I’m taking this semester was selected because I wanted to take it. I’m taking the first journalism course required for admission to the major, two political science courses, microeconomics, and a 1-credit, online public health course.

I was able to set up my schedule so that I’m done with class everyday by the early afternoon, and I don’t have any classes on Fridays! Back when I was researching colleges, I always checked if the school offered the majors I was interested in, but I didn’t look in depth at their class offerings.

If you are a student looking at colleges, think about more than just your major!

Does the school offer alternative class arrangements such as online classes or classes held only once a week? I love being able to take two of my classes online. It allows me to work at my own pace and re-watch the course lectures, if I don’t understand the content the first time. Are all students required to take the same general education courses such as Biology 101, or do you get to choose which science course you take? I enjoy having many course options to fulfill the U of M’s requirements.

Freshmen at the U of M have a whole week of activities to welcome them to campus, but transfer students have a smaller offering of events. I went to a few of the events such as one at the student union where there were different free foods to eat and activities to do on each floor.

The main way I’ve made new friends is by meeting friends of my friends! I attended business camp at the U of M’s Carlson School of Management the summer before my senior year of high school, so I already knew students on campus. Since they have already been at the U of M for year, they are able to show me around campus and tell me about the different student groups. I love to go to events held by the many cultural student clubs on campus. We learn something new about another culture and get free food! My favorite event I’ve attend so far is Wam-O-Ram! It was held in the U of M’s Weisman Art Museum. There were free screen printed t-shirts, free pizza, a mini concert, and of course viewing of the numerous art pieces.

As a transfer student it can take a little extra work to make new friends and get involved on campus, but I am pleased with my decision to transfer. I can’t wait to see what other experiences I’ll have during my first semester at the U of M, and I am excited to share them with all of you!

Introducing Maddi – University of California – Berkeley

IMG_6033By age eleven, I could unicycle, knit a sock, play the viola, and build a children’s wooden playhouse. I grew up in Minneapolis, first attending the City of Lakes Waldorf School where I was introduced to an alternate way of teaching and learning. Following Waldorf I went to Anthony Middle School and then Washburn High School. During high school I played soccer, joined social justice theatre, national honors society, and student council, helped create the WHS feminism and urban farm clubs, and was one of the valedictorians.

My mom is from Germany and my dad lived in Sweden so I was fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of my childhood in Europe, including a year in Barcelona. That being said, I still felt extremely nervous about moving half-way across the country to start school in California surrounded by 35,000 strangers. It’s exciting to integrate myself into a new culture, take a variety of classes and join clubs that resemble the unconventional skills I learned at Waldorf. I hope I can give you insight on what it looks and feels like to really go out of your comfort zone.

  • High School: Washburn High School
  • College: University of California – Berkeley
  • Intended Major: Pre-Medicine
  • Hobbies/Interests: Soccer, Tennis, Art, Reading
  • Favorite thing about Minneapolis: Bike paths and socially open minded/environmentally friendly people
  • Favorite Author: JK Rowling
  • Dream Career: Doctor with “Doctors without Borders”

Transition Summer

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by Guanani

Senior year is just about over.

Hopefully most things are in order; you know where you’ll be going, you’ve wrapped up your last semester, and you’ve figured out how you want to celebrate graduation. Only three months stretch ahead before the bold frontier of the future…

Wait, only three months?!

The realization that I would be moving more than 500 miles away and leaving everything I knew behind in mere months was a delayed-reaction shock for me. In a haze of pre-nostalgia and panic, I made several drafts of packing lists, checked the Reed website every day to make sure I didn’t miss any important information, and wrote up a summer bucket list of things I wanted to do before leaving.

These preparations helped me get ready for the move to college, but I felt sad and woefully unprepared emotionally for most of the summer. I was excited to live somewhere outside of Minnesota and begin a new chapter in my life, but leaving my family and friends behind was heavy in my heart even when I was doing fun things with them.

If I could talk to myself from last summer, I would tell her:

  1. Calm down
  2. You aren’t leaving forever, these people will still be part of your life when you come back
  3. You won’t have time to read all those fun books in your suitcase 😦

That being said, I do recommend taking steps to make sure you don’t miss any important announcements from the college you’ll be attending, especially with all the forms and paperwork they will need for housing, registration, orientation events and health insurance. The bucket list was also a lot of fun to complete, though I really didn’t need to be so heavy-handed about it being the last time I’d get to do fun things at home. Figuring out what you need to pack well ahead of time makes the already difficult last week before moving less stressful, and the fewer things you bring with, the better.

I had a lot of fun during my transition summer: I hung out with friends, swam in the Chain of Lakes, read good books for fun, and finally got my drivers’ license.

However, the persistent worrying about everything being “the last” was unpleasant and unnecessary, and made the last two weeks especially difficult. Everything was ready except for me: my flight to Portland was booked, my boxes were packed, and most of the items on my bucket list had been checked off. The last days before leaving were filled with fretful goodbyes: everyone wanted another hug, another picnic or sleepover before I had to leave.

Everything felt irreversibly final, like walking toward a cliff. Looking back it seems overdramatic, now that I’ve built a home away from home and found friends in college. But it was very real at the time.

The summer after senior year is an odd one. Even if the transition feels awkward, or like it’s going by too fast, or you can’t wait to just get out of the house, it should also be enjoyable. Spend lots of time with your loved ones and read for fun while you can.

You’ve come a long way, and it’s time to relax and prepare for wherever you’re going.

Home Alone 6: Lost in College

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by Natalie

As a child, I dreamed of living a life where I got to do whatever I wanted to all of the time.

In this ideal life, I would go to bed whenever I pleased and sleep in as late as I wanted and, when I woke up, whether it was 6 am (a time my mother deemed “far too early” for opening Christmas presents or watching Saturday morning cartoons) or 2 pm (a time my mother deemed “far too late” for an energetic young woman such as myself to be sleeping in to), I would go to my imaginary kitchen and eat chocolate cake and ice cream for breakfast.

I would never have to do chores in this dream world.  No dishes or laundry or bathrooms to clean.  No beds to make. A life of leisure and luxury was the life I would live when I went to college.  Or at least that’s what I thought would happen when I was a kid.

Well, that time has come and I am officially a college student.  I am living on my own.  I don’t answer to my mother.  I answer to my roommate, Courtney.  I choose when and what to eat.  I choose when I go to sleep and when I wake up.  I am independent.

And it’s hard.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are great things about not living with your parents:

  • You don’t have to apologize for coming home late.
  • You can dance naked in your room (if your roommate isn’t coming home for a while) and nobody questions it.
  • You can roll out of bed 10 minutes before class starts, brush your teeth, slap on some deodorant and wear your pajamas to class and your mom isn’t going to tell you to put on something presentable.
  • You can drink all the coffee you want without your dad telling you that it’ll stunt your growth.
  • You get full artistic liberties when it comes to what you wear, eat, drink, think, say, and do.

It’s liberating, really.  But with great power comes great responsibility.

For a girl like me, who never woke up to alarms, whose mother would gently wake her up with such sweet sayings as “Get yourself out of bed right now, young lady!” and “I am not driving you to school again if you miss your bus, girlfriend!” waking one’s self up every morning is a real struggle.

I have an 8:30 class every other day and I try so hard to wrestle myself out of bed to go to that class but, sometimes, the fact that I didn’t go to bed until 3 a.m. and the fact that I haven’t had a healthy, solid meal with all of my food groups in a week and half win and I roll back over and don’t go to that class.

On top of not being able to get out of bed, I have a basket full of the clean laundry I did last night sitting next to me that probably won’t get put away until I need the basket to bring my dirty clothes to the laundry room next week.  I have a pile of dirty dishes sitting on my desk that I need to take down to the kitchen and wash but that just seems like so much work.  I have a couple of shirts that I’ve ruined for life by washing in the wrong load or not using stain remover at the appropriate time.

Given all of these little tasks I struggle with, I’ve found that the hardest part of living on my own is treating my body the way it deserves to be treated.

I don’t take my vitamins regularly because I don’t have my mom to tell me to.

I don’t drink enough milk because the cafeteria has pop and that just sounds better to me.

I don’t eat enough vegetables or proteins because I no longer have my mother making me a well-rounded home cooked meal every night.

Instead, I have the school dining center offering me chicken strips and cream cheese wontons, along with some healthier options, but the chicken strips and the cream cheese wontons win out every time.  They’re just so tasty!

A tip for you, my dear readers: appreciate your parents and guardians who make sure you’re putting the right stuff in your body and reminding you to go to bed and wake up in the mornings.

Appreciate the nagging because, in a few months, you’ll be wishing you had someone other than yourself to drag your sorry butt out of bed.

Eat the hot dish that your mom worked really hard on because, in a few months, you’ll be wishing it was easier and more delicious to eat a solid, healthy meal that you don’t have to work for.

If you have one, appreciate the fact that you have a dish washer to put your dirty dishes into.  Love the fact that you don’t have to hand wash each one.

Be grateful for not having to do your own laundry.  If you already do your own laundry (good for you!) be grateful that you don’t have to wait for a machine to be free.  Be grateful that you don’t have to move that one jock’s clothes out of the dryer that’ve been sitting in for the past four hours in order to use that dryer.

Living on your own is fun.  Living on your own is freedom and it’s beautiful but don’t forget to be grateful for the people who provide for you now, while you don’t live on your own.  Soon enough, you’ll wish you had some of those comforts that come with living in your parents’ house.  I sure do.

Gap Year: Making Your Own Path

Backpacking through san Francisco after climbing something like 15 flights of stairs to Coit tower

‘Backpacking’ through San Francisco after climbing something like 15 flights of stairs to Coit Tower!

by Avery

As a child, you receive constant instructions on what to do from the adults in your life. Where it was okay to go, what to eat, where to play, who to play with. As you get a little older, teachers take on this role, too. This isn’t a bad thing, of course; you were a kid. But now you’ve been told what to do for 17 or 18 years. If your life is anything like mine (which it may not be), it has been structured by other people telling you what to do, and you’re probably pretty used to it.

Oversimplified? Well, probably. Still at least kinda true? I think so.

For me, this was the main reason I didn’t want to go to college right away. Though I really am excited to go to college, I wasn’t ready. I wanted to learn how to structure my own time around my desires and interests, and not out of student-ly obligations. I wanted to define myself outside of my role as a student, and fill my days exactly how I wanted to before settling into another 4+ years in a school system

Now don’t get me wrong: there is infinite knowledge to be gained from others, other people have tons of wisdom to offer, and college is a great thing, but taking time off from school was one of the best calls I’ve ever made.

There are so many reasons to take a break from school. You might be feeling burnt out after high school. Maybe your interests don’t totally match up with a school setting right now. Taking time off to work and save money may be a great idea for you. Maybe you’ve caught a travel bug. Or, maybe you aren’t sure what you want to study in college yet and don’t want to start before you’ve thought about it a bit more.

Maybe you’re hesitant to pursue a gap year as an option. It can be hard to decide what to do with all that time. But the thing is, there are so many options. You can live at home and volunteer somewhere in your community while working part-time. You can do Peace Corps, or Americorps, or work in a national park, or backpack out west, or train puppies, or work at a daycare… You can take a gap year with a program such as Rotary Youth Exchange, or plan the details yourself. Ask around your community, school, relatives, friends…You never know what you may find as a gap year option. The best part is, you can tailor your itinerary (or lack thereof) to what you want, who you are, and what you want to learn.

I decided I wanted the freedom to go where I wanted and to not be tied to the strict schedule of a program, but that isn’t for everyone. I also knew that I wanted to be in nature. A wanted a break from urban Minneapolis, so I decided to use my connection in rural California.

How do you do it?
While I was deciding whether to actually take a gap year, I was also applying to colleges. I ended up simply deferring my enrollment to McGill university; the process was really quite easy. Almost all schools allow you to do this, but make sure to check with the school first. You can also reapply to colleges during your gap year, though this can be a little harder without the support of your high school.

My Plan
I decided to set my year up in “semesters”, having 2 main projects during the school year time frame. It looked something like this:

September and October: Traveled on the West Coast with a friend from high school, while based out of my uncle’s land in Northern California. Worked on art, read a lot, helped with projects around the land, went hiking.

Mount shasta, taken during a day hike in September

Mount Shasta day hike in September

November: I worked as a cook and laborer on a forestry crew. We were clearing dead brush to reduce the risk of forest fires in the area and cutting down trees in a former pine plantation to restore the forest to its natural state.

After the west coast portion of my year, I came home for a few weeks.

January-April: Going to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to volunteer with a human rights non-profit that works with garment factory workers, sex workers, and others. I’ll be their writer and communications person. I’ll live at a house with 3 other volunteers.

May: I’m hoping to travel around Southeast Asia before coming home for the summer!

I’m only a few months into my year, but I’ve already learned so much. My sense of independence and self-reliance has improved a ton. I’ve become more motivated to learn for the sake of learning again (I finally have time to read for pleasure after years of only required readings in school). I’ve met some great people, improved my sense of street smarts and who to trust while traveling, and have had a ton of fun doing it. I’ve been at home the past few weeks and after talking to my friends who are at college right now, I am so thankful that I made the decision to wait on school.

Thinking about taking some time before heading to college? Here are some resources for researching gap year programs and options:

Also be sure to check out your Career & College Center at your high school. They’ve got lots of great connections and programs to recommend.