How to Spend a Gap Year

Definition : “A gap year (also known as “year out”, “year off”, “deferred year”, “bridging year”, “overseas experience”, “time off” and “time out”) is a term that refers to a prolonged period (often, but not always, a year) between a life stage. The most popular gap years are taken pre or during matriculation in a university or college, between college and graduate school and a profession, during a career change, pre or post marriage or having a first child and pre or post retirement. It is generally a practice undertaken by those from developed countries.”[1]

Granted, I’ve been on gap/sabbatical for going on two-three years now. I’ll give a little backstory:

I enrolled in college right out off high school at the age of seventeen. My first semester at college in 2003, I dealt with life changing news of a serious medical illness right before my birthday and my brother threatening to commit suicide during a phone call on New Years. The summer right before starting wasn’t much better, with my parents moving away to Virginia and the cops coming to the house with a bench warrant for my older brother. But I dealt, or so I thought.

Then came time to study abroad in Paris, and all the issues I had been ignoring in my life came crashing down around me. I stopped answering phone calls from my parents. From my advisors. I went to class intermittently. Repressing all the drama that had been ongoing in my life had finally taken its toll, and I wanted a break. I ended up hoping in my car and going missing for 36 hours. A bit dramatic, yes. Then again, drama is nothing new in my life. Nor anyone’s life. All the world is a stage, and everyone has their parts.

Before starting college I had read about the idea of a gap year, and though I really wanted to take one I wanted even more to break away from my family. With my breakdown in 2006, I subconsciously began taking a gay year. Years, rather. The breakdown highlighted the importance of stating what I want and going after it. On most days I’m a very nice and hospitable guy, willing to go out of my way. Back me into a corner, and I turn into a completely different person. I’m a cat with the claws out and ready to go for a strike to the jugular. My parents have witnessed it on several occasions when my back has been to the wall and I finally stand up for what I want. My friends have witnessed it more than I would like to admit. The birth of Patrique was due to creating an assertive alter ego who stood up for himself. In being assertive, I try not to be mean but that is not always the case. Ask MacLean. I apologize for those glasses of water and oats.

Appeasement doesn’t work. History has taught us that through the actions of France, U.S. and Great Britain in the lead up to World War II. Nor does aggression work. As evidenced by the aggresive Germany taking its toll across Europe when it was backed into a corner. Appeasement is being passive. Aggression is well it is belligerent action. Assertiveness is somewhere in between the two.

“Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to harm or otherwise unduly influence them. They are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them.”[2]

In the past, I have been a passive communicator, by not defending my own personal boundaries and allowing others to influence my personal choice. This has led to much passive aggressive behavior; for example : avoidance, procrastination, being stubborn, resentment, sullen or moody behavior, and learned helplessness.

“A person communicates assertively by not being afraid to speak his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. They are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive incursions.”[2]

It takes time to learn how to communicate assertively, and it also takes practice. Fret not, this will come back to the gap year. Acting as passive as I have in the past led to many mistakes. Thus the gap year. Moving back home (and also a bit of therapy) has taught me how to communicate more assertively with my family about my wants and needs in a respectful way, but defending my choice of actions.Wanting something doesn’t give anyone the right to take it, but one may ask and see where a compromise can be made. Also known as the democratic process. Families are rarely democratic, but after the age of 18, when one isn’t considered a minor anymore, either families turn democratic or risk alienating each other. At least, those that don’t communicate effectively.

One of my reasons for wanting the gap year(s) have been I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college. I liked the idea of journalism, because I enjoy writing, but didn’t know how to effectively assert myself in situations to get interviews. I’m a passive communicator, and I’m working on becoming an assertive communicator. Instead I ended up jumping around from major to major until finally settling on Comparative Literature, which I thoroughly enjoy but there were other pressing issues that needed to be addressed. The other reason was after enrolling, I faced the news of a life changing illness and family stress. I needed to take a break, to give myself time to process all the events that had happened, and how to readjust my life. I call the process learning to live one day at a time.

In taking my gap year, I’ve had the opportunity to work on taking care of my needs, and finding out what it is that I want to do. At first I bounced around between a couple of jobs during the spring and summer of 2007. Then I moved back home, and began to truly focus on my health and learning how to communicate effectively with my parents. This past New Years marked learning how to communicate affectively and assertively with my older brother. It has been exceedingly trying at times, and some of my friends can attest in letters I started planning my escape. But the skills I learned, thanks to therapy, have allowed me to cope with the stress and communicating my needs effectively with others.

To wind it all down, my gap year has been beneficial, and no price tag could be put on it. Not everyone is in a position to take a gap year. I’ve been fortunate to have understanding parents and also parents financially comfortable to allow me to take time off. I’ve been able to rediscover my love for writing and the literary arts, as well as become involved with the cinematic arts. I hope to re-enroll back at the University of Georgia in the summer or fall, and mend bridges I’ve burnt with the faculty and with friends. God knows I have a lot of burned bridges to hopefully rebuild. I have 30 credits left to complete, and I know I’ll be proud of myself to graduate. This time knowing I’m doing it for myself and not for my parents or my uncle and aunt.

My gap year taught me where my passion lies, what my skills are and what my strengths are. I love writing, designing and being creative in general. I’ve found my limitations and weaknesses. I’ve learned how to take a break for myself, for mental and physical health. In order to grow one must know who he or she is. In short, thank you gap year but it’s time for adolescence to end and to enter the next stage of life. Time to grow up a bit.