Those long, seemingly endless nights filled with homework, sports or even the undeniable half hour of TV watched before parents arrive home from work, and then facing the exhausting consequences the following day. Stressing over exams. Using every last chance to make deadlines, and almost enjoying the rush of it all. High school is often perceived as a time to strive in academics and plunge into a newfound love for learning. Simultaneously, however, it easily can be perceived as a significant time for hard work, as well as development in all areas of study and outside interests. Students often work diligently in their teen years with hopes of being given the opportunity to attend college.
However, the traditional routine of enrolling in college immediately after high school isn’t on every student’s agenda. Taking a year off from school after receiving a diploma has been coined the “gap year.” An increasing amount of students are leaving high school with plans to travel to foreign countries, work or volunteer.
While some interpret an entire school year not spent in a classroom as detrimental, others thrive from the break and find abundant success. Often serving as a gateway to new opportunities, gap years can provide experiences of a lifetime.
Aaron Blumenthal, a 2012 graduate of Allegany-Limestone High School in Cattaraugus County, spent his first year after high school in Africa.
“A gap year isn’t sitting on your couch for a year; it should be an opportunity to do something you never could before. It’s a learning experience,” Blumenthal said.
Hundreds of companies offer travel opportunities for service and volunteer work, and sometimes even paid jobs. Selecting a well-organized and effective company to work or volunteer for can be stressful, but being fearful of a commitment shouldn’t be a setback, he said.
“Discomfort taught me how to be a lot more self-sufficient,” Blumenthal added.
He now works as a medical assistant at Vascular Associates of Western New York in West Seneca. He is taking some classes at Erie Community College and applying to colleges for next fall.
During the admissions process, colleges often recognize valued skills learned during productive gap years, such as the drive to do something different, communication skills and quick adjustment to changing environments.
One of the most influential factors for students who decide to take gap years is money.
Timothy Genco, a 2012 City Honors graduate who spent a year in Brazil, explains the financial aspect of his journey.
“My year was cheaper than a year’s worth of education at most schools, and was more of an education any school could have provided,” he said.
Blumenthal sees traveling on his own during a gap year as more advantageous than the study abroad programs offered in college.
“I lived there and became a part of the community, they respected me as one of their own,” Blumenthal said. “I saw parts of their life I couldn’t see walking by.”
Blumenthal said that he emerged from his gap year with an abundant motivation for school and learning.
“I have such an appreciation for knowledge now. I can’t stop learning,” he said. “I rediscovered how to learn, and now all I want to do is go to school.”
He and his mother gave a presentation this fall at the Olean Public Library on gap years, and Blumenthal says he is hoping to reach out to more students in the community.
Genco is currently working as an apprentice and metal worker at the Foundry, a place in Buffalo that, according to its website, “provides workshop space, tools, peer knowledge and shared inspiration for emerging artisans and artists.”
“I am not so much studying as I am working alongside an artist specializing in metal works and learning how to make my way in Buffalo as an artist,” Genco said. “I do plan on finding myself enrolled in classes one day when I feel the time is right.”
Alexa Rosenblatt is a sophomore at City Honors.