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Freshman Files: Taking some time away with a gap year

April 16th, 2019

The “Gap Year” has been popular in Europe for a long time and is now on the rise in the United States.  During a gap year, students explore their interests after graduating high school and before attending college to explore the world, sharpen their sense of purpose or develop a new focus for the future.  

While this has not been the traditional route for students in the past, many colleges in the U.S. are now on board by providing programs to support such a plan.  Colleges like Tufts University, Florida State University and University of North Carolina have added enriching international and domestic volunteer, fellowship and internship gap year programs.  To read more about these schools and several others that now offer gap year programs, go to www.goabroad.com .  

In today’s Freshman Files post, Eliana Shapere has written a beautiful description of her self-constructed gap year and what it has meant to her.  I am delighted that she is willing to share her experience and think it is a great read for all parents and students as we all continue to consider which direction to go in life.  

I have always been an autodidact. When I was four, I refused to participate in art class but spent all my time at home making sculptures out of tape and things from the recycling bin. School pretty much went the same; I taught myself French and got in trouble for drawing during class. What can I say? Like many creative kids, I was bored. I did the International Baccalaureate Program, which worked well with my learning style. There was a required research paper for each class, and ironically, this was the most freeing experience I had in high school. At the end of my junior year at Tates Creek, I decided to take a gap year to travel the world. It was the best decision I ever made.

I didn’t just decide to take a gap year and spend it travelling out of nowhere. My dad travelled through Europe and Asia in the middle of college, and afterwards switched majors from Math to Physics. His adventure stories filled me with a desire to see the world, and to go at it alone. I was also inspired by my great-grandfather who travelled for two years after college. He too came back from his voyages a changed man, and turned away from his conservative upbringing to devote himself to writing and progressive politics.

I knew that a relatively unstructured year would prepare me to give college my all. My teachers have been books, coworkers, bosses, museums, and strangers who became friends. To raise money for my travels, I interviewed faculty from the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, lifeguarded at Woodland Pool, and canvassed for Amy McGrath. I was pretty shy around strangers until I got a job talking to dozens of them each day about politics. I discovered that I enjoy creative writing more than journalism, and I have filled many notebooks these past months.

So far I have travelled alone to Cuba, Italy, Switzerland, France, and Spain. In Havana, I made friends with an artist who had a huge collection of Art Brut. By the way, I had never heard of Art Brut until meeting him, but now I love it. During school, I prioritized sports, music, and theater, but Cuba helped me remember how much I love drawing. In Florence, I learned enough Italian to survive, and then went to Sicily to eat cannoli and check out all the Greek ruins. I will never forget my first glimpse of the Temple of Concordia through fragrant almond trees. I am interested in Classics, so this was a dream come true.

There have been few drawbacks. A common fear (or so my mother tells me) is that people who take gap years are less likely to go on to college. All I can say is that somehow, my excitement about college decreased exponentially throughout high school. I never thought I would say this last May, but now I feel hopeful and excited about college. I have gained confidence about teaching myself, but I want to join a stable academic community, so I feel sure that college is the right path for me. Another fear is that taking a gap year turns kids lazy. Too much time makes idle minds, but I am grateful for the space to think. I am more creative than I was in high school, because I have free time. During high school, it was all too easy for me to ignore the “little” things like sleep and hanging out with friends. I don’t say this lightly: now, I have a clearer sense of what matters in life.

If you are in high school now, I wholeheartedly suggest that you take a gap year. You will grow in ways you cannot yet imagine. You will get a better idea of what you want to study. And yes, you will have time to think, relax, see your friends, and sleep. Consider if you prefer more or less structure, and let that dictate your year. Even if you’re sure you don’t want to take a gap year, brainstorm what you might do just as an exercise.

There are various scholarships for service, and you can find work nearly anywhere you want. Americans can work with no visa in Australia, and everywhere I’ve been, there have been volunteers working at the hostels in exchange for room and board. There’s WWOOFing (working on organic farms), workaway, and Helpx. I have been Couchsurfing to save money and live like a local. Couchsurfing is a network of people who open their homes to travellers, but it’s more than a free place to stay. It’s about exchanging stories, cooking for each other, and a shared hope for the future.

The possibilities are endless, and it’s never too early to consider a gap year. Now take some time to dream.

 

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Freshman files: Engineering state of mind

March 5th, 2019

Our second installment of freshman files for 2019 is here and it’s a great read for all students, especially those considering engineering, math and science majors.  Our blogger, Katelyn, is an engineering student at the Colorado School of Mines, a public research university that specializes in engineering and topics related to earth, energy and the environment.  

I’m grateful that Katelyn is willing to share her experience with us and I wish her the best as she finishes the year strong!   I especially appreciate Katelyn’s openness as she describes working through homesickness, developing strong connections to people and organizations on campus to overcome it.

My first semester has been really good for me! I joined Kappa Alpha Theta on campus and am also very involved with Navigators, a Christian ministry on campus. A junior who is in Navigators mentors me, and I really love getting to know her. I also sing with our worship team!

My classes are rigorous but not too overwhelming. My major is still Chemical Engineering, but I am very interested in possibly changing to Engineering Physics or Applied Math. Calculus 2 was my favorite class last semester because I loved the process of building skills and becoming good at things that I had never done before. This isn’t a surprise to me because I am finding that this rewarding way to approach math is the same way I approached singing and Latin, which I also loved. Yesterday was my first day of Calculus 3 and I was surprised at how much we have to do on computers computationally, but I have a sorority sister who is a TA for the class and she has told me that it will not be as hard as it seems right now. I am also taking Chemistry 2, Physics 2, and a class for the Honors Program called Innovation and Discovery in Engineering, Arts, and Science (IDEAS). Last semester I took Calculus 2, Chemistry 1, Physics 1, and the first half of IDEAS. The only course I would not recommend is IDEAS as it consists of many projects and assignments that do not relate to each other or to a major on campus. The class is designed to let students create art but, coming from a high school with strong liberal arts classes, I feel that I am spending a lot of time on assignments that are not making me a better person. It is quite time consuming and I personally tend to get frustrated when the projects are getting in the way of my STEM courses. That being said, there is no way for me to have foreseen not enjoying the class so I can’t say I could have done anything differently!

Moving away from home was exciting for a few weeks, but as September and October came I was missing my old life. … I missed my family and I missed being in high school. I think this was inevitable as I had met many people but had not yet had enough time to build real friendships. As I got more involved with Navigators, these issues went away and I was less homesick. I now look forward to my Bible study every Wednesday and usually have plans to go out with friends afterwards. Next year, I am going to live with three other girls who also do Navigators. I cannot express how grateful I am for Megan, the junior who has been mentoring me through Navigators. I look up to how hard she works in school and try to be like her in situations where I am not sure how to act. … She also mentors my roommate, who is also my best friend in college. I am going to try to get more involved with Theta this semester since I have spent most of my time with Navigators last semester.

I am excited for this semester, but more excited for semesters to come! I could not be more happy that I chose to attend Mines. I love my new life in Colorado but am so grateful for everyone at home who helped me get to this place today!

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Freshman files: Dartmouth impressions

January 22nd, 2019

Each year after the holidays I love to reconnect with past Shrop Ed students and check in on their first semester of college.  This provides a great opportunity to share their experiences as college freshmen, shedding light on important elements of the transition from high school to college.  Excerpts from their responses are extremely helpful to our younger students who will soon begin this journey as well, and I’m grateful to past students willing to share their thoughts publicly.  

The first freshman files excerpt of 2019 comes from Isaac, a first-year student at Dartmouth College, a small research university within the Ivy League.  Isaac’s commentary provides a deeper understanding of the many extracurricular opportunities and academic resources available outside of traditional classes, so important to making connections which can improve any college experience immensely.  

Regarding Dartmouth, I love it here! The academics are in no way easy, but I’m finding them manageable this term. I’m doing very well in all of my classes (Intro to Anthropology, Computer Science 1, and my mandatory writing class) with the exception of a bump in the writing class … That being said, I did well on the last paper, so I think I’m getting the hang of it!

 I joined Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering and am currently working on a project to improve the design of cots at a local shelter in hopes of preventing them from breaking so often to hopefully cut down on long-term expenses. I am also in Investment Club, SIBS (Big Brother Big Sister; I get paired with my Little in about a week and will meet them once or twice before break and then kick it into full swing once I’m back for winter term), and the Dartmouth Outing Club.

 I also opted to do a couple of supplementary classes. I did Learning at Dartmouth which is a 14 session long informal course to help improve study skills and help first years learn about all of the resources they have available to them. I also participated in a 4 session long Koru Mindfulness class in hopes that it would help with stress management. It went pretty well and I think helped some but wasn’t a cure-all solution for me.

 First Year Trips was an absolute blast! I loved all of my trippees and my trip leaders were great. I still often hang out with my trippees and keep in contact with my trip leaders. It was an amazing experience. Social life has been good too. I’ve made a lot of good friends who are really accepting of everyone. My roommate is one of my best friends. I really like him and we’ve both made friends through each other. 

We’re grateful that Isaac agreed to share his experiences and wish him continued success as he finishes his first year!

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Be organized. Try new things. Get involved. Rise to the challenge. Experience diversity.

March 26th, 2018

Last year’s Shrop Ed seniors continue to send feedback about their first year at college, and today we share excerpts from three students who report both happiness and success.  You’ll note some boldfaced text – these are points that we feel are crucial for younger students to zero in on, to understand what it takes to transition successfully to college.

What themes do you note?

First year at U. of Kentucky

My first few months at the University of Kentucky have been pretty good!  I am currently involved in a variety of activities here, including the International Student Council, the University of Kentucky Leadership Exchange, the Chinese Culture Club, and the Korean Language and Culture Club.  Overall, transitioning to life in campus was not very difficult for me, surprisingly.  My classes have gone quite well so far, and while I am still trying to find my perfect niche here I have met a variety of people I have become close friends with.  Interesting, adjusting to my new homework load wasn’t very difficult, and I finished the semester with straight A’s.  The hardest thing I’ve had to grow used to is managing when I will do all of my homework, but it did not take long for me to get used to this.  I have been working with the Modern and Classical Languages Department to start a new Korean language program due both to strong student interest and my own time spent in South Korea on a scholarship last summer, and I have recently been accepted for a summer internship overseas!  While at times I do wish I had been able to attend one of the other wonderful schools I was accepted to, I do think I have done well at UK so far and I have high hopes for the upcoming semester.

First year at Northeastern U. in Boston

My first semester is going absolutely amazing.  Northeastern was definitely a perfect fit for me and I am so glad I chose it.  The courses I’m taking are really challenging, not sure if I will end up sticking with Math as a major, I may be switching to a minor.  However, I am really enjoying the courses I’m taking and I’m glad Northeastern has given me room in my schedule to explore other areas, such as Communications, Linguistics, and Psychology.  Through the academic part is definitely at challenge, I’ve gained some really great study skills and I’ve become more organized.  My work ethic has increased as well, due to the fact that what I am learning is really interesting and exciting for me!  I think the transition to college went really smoothly and I made friends quickly without any difficulty.  Additionally, I am getting involved on and off campus with different clubs and activities.  I am doing lots of community service for different organizations around Boston and joined a recreational soccer team as well as other activities.  It seems as though I have unlimited opportunities to get involved in clubs/extracurriculars as well as research and internships.  I’m so excited for what is to come in my college career and I can’t thank you enough for all the help in my college process!

First year at Southern Methodist U. Honors Program 

SMU…is academically challenging, especially for me who is in the Honors Program and seeking a triple major (thanks to the AP classes I have taken and my interests in humanities and STEM).  One of the things that has definitely helped me to get through is motivation because I am the kind of person who does not like to do assignments, especially papers for English major classes, the day before it’s due….I would rather work hard on Friday and Saturday so that I can have Sunday free.  What I actually do, providing that there is a long-term assignment, is to put it in my planner twice or even more times and aim for the first date to compete it…

…I have made much effort and found great venues to get involved.  One of the great things I am involved in is Yearbook as a staff writer, which allows and motivates me to go to different events and write about them.  I feel that it is important to do what I actually like while it is also worthwhile to consider the potential benefits.  I am also working for the library, and that’s why I stayed on campus through this winter break.  At the same time, I am applying to become an RA, a position that can potentially bring me more into the community of my Residential Commons.  What has gone smoothly for me is to adapt to the college campus and be independent responsibly because I came to the States when I was 15, and I feel like moving into college is not like leaving my family for the first time.  Therefore, the transition is smooth, and most importantly, since such independence is not something new to me, I treat it with responsibility which is important, in my opinion, for a college freshman.  And what’s surprising is how busy college life can be even if it may sound plausible that I come back to dorm and take a nap after classes.  Classes, homework, jobs/activities, and all other things that will come up take up much of the time, and in order to stick to my routines, I have to pace myself well.

Throughout these months, I have come to understand how the sense of responsibility can play a key role in almost everything, and I have seen how different everyone is.  I went to a very small high school, and college is giving me a better idea of diversity by which I mean how everyone is pursuing different things and how drastically different ideas, personalities, and values can come together….

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We’re grateful to these students for allowing us to share their thoughts with you on our blog, and wish them continued success and new adventures!  We hope they’ll stay in touch with us for a long time to come, just as we hope you will do when you’re at the school of your choice.
 

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