When I graduated from high school, a lot of my friends decided to wait a few months before they started college. I had been accepted into the Liberal Arts program at my mother’s Alma mater and I could not wait to get started. So, I moved on campus later that summer and started my classes in the fall. I figured that continuity in my education would keep me focused.
While it was not always a breeze, my four years at the university was everything I hoped it would be. I had fascinating professors who had a lot of experience in the areas they taught and they impressed their enthusiasm in my mind. I had so many ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, and that was one of the reasons I got my BA in Liberal Arts. I could take that foundation to graduate school and apply it to just about any program.
I spent a lot of time getting career advice from my advisor and from my professors. One of the things that most of my professors told me was to take some time and get some real-world experience before I decided on a career. I could get a feel for different interests and talk to others who were in the field.
Fortunately, my parents started a college fund for me years ago and I also won a scholarship that paid for the majority of my schooling. I had enough funds to take a year and figure out what I wanted to do. That was the most inspiring year of my life and it was more valuable than any textbook. Here are some of the benefits I found by taking a year off before graduate school.
Experiencing the World
My dad’s family is Italian and I have always wanted to go to Italy. Since I was taking this time for out for myself, I thought that this was the perfect time to go. I bought a popular foreign language program and spent a month trying to learn some basic Italian phrases before I went. Going to Italy was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Traveling is one of the most popular things to do during a gap year.
I stayed in a youth hostel in a village outside of Rome and met so many lovely Italian people. In general, they were gracious and were eager to help me with my faulty Italian language skills.
On a visit to Tuscany, I stayed in a little monastery and spent time with the sisters who lived and served there. I was overwhelmed with their compassion for the poor and how content they could be with just the basics of life. Living in a different culture taught me that although we may have different ways of thinking and doing things, the people of our world have more in common than they have differences.
Testing New Skills
While in Italy, I was exposed to some of the most beautiful art and architecture in the world. I took so many pictures that I probably needed a whole computer system to archive them. At one time, I considered going into art as a career; however, it just was not my forte’. In Rome, many of my friends were taking classes; so I took some water coloring classes offered to foreigners. It was refreshing to see that I really had some talent in art.
At the monastery in Tuscany, I had the opportunity to help the nuns bake fresh bread every morning. They ran a local bakery in order to fund their charity work. They were so happy and diligent with their work and taught me the right way to knead the bread and roll it up in pans to rise. I actually enjoyed the smells and fun in the kitchen.
I met the sweetest little Italian grandmother in the farmer’s market I visited every Saturday. Her name was Rita and we formed a wonderful friendship. Rita invited me to her little home and offered to teach me how to make her scrumptious meat pies that she sold at the market. Her house was tiny and modestly furnished; however, it was spotless and her kitchen was a haven of vintage cookware and savory ingredients. Despite the language barriers and my hilarious first attempts, Rita taught me how to make a decent meat pie. The thing that impressed me the most was how content Rita was with so little. Despite age, painful arthritis, and a meager income, she never ceased to laugh and enjoy herself.
What I Learned
My gap year after university was an experience that I would never trade for the world. It was like examining my soul in a mirror. I had never realized how much value I placed on material things to make me happy. The experience in Italy taught me as much about myself as it did about its people. While helping the nuns, I rediscovered the joy of self-sacrifice and service to others. Rita taught me how to laugh more and to be content with what I have. She called it the la vita dolce (the sweet life).
I still have several career options that I am considering. I am building on my formal education and the real-life experience in Italy to enhance whatever I do. Accepting others who are different, service to others, and contentment are life lessons that were vital to learn. I hope to practice and share these virtues every day.