Gap Years: What You Should Consider

Fox Business has added an article about why gap years are an important and productive part of life. Read it here or from the transcript below:

While most high school seniors are working hard to complete college applications, not every student is planning to head to campus next fall.

Taking a gap year after high school, common in many European countries, and the trend has become more popular with students in the U.S. as the cost of college continues to rise along with outstanding student loan debt.

“Students can use the year to refresh skills, gain experience, and learn of career opportunities that may ultimately direct their academic path,” says Rita Toliver-Roberts, vice president of Academic Advancement at Peirce College. “Students can also utilize this time to search for additional financial support, such as scholarships or grants.”

Rather than jumping into college after high school, some experts argue that taking time off allows students to explore interests, gain valuable experience and in turn, perform stronger academically when they enter college.

Research conducted by Robert Clagett, former dean of admissions at Middlebury College, shows students who take a gap year tend to outperform those who don’t. Undergraduates at Middlebury College and the University of North Carolina who had taken a gap year before enrolling in college on average had a GPA 0.1 to 0.4 higher than predicted based on high school academic credentials.

“When students take this kind of time, they don’t forget how to learn–they’re much better students,” says Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs, LLC. “I’ve had parents tell me their child would probably have dropped out after first semester or year because they were so turned off by their classes in the academic experience, but a gap year helped them get excited and gave them a focus.”

Creating a Plan with Purpose

Students should ensure they are taking a gap year for the right reasons, such as feeling underprepared for the academic rigors of college, needing more time to find the right-fit school  or wanting to seek out experiential opportunities and work/career experience, according to Toliver-Roberts.

“One of the bad reasons to take a gap year can be to just take a break–in our competitive society, taking a break, for the sake of simply ‘resting’ should not be an option,” she says.

Bull also warns students against taking time off only for the sake of reapplying to schools in the hopes of being admitted to a “better” college.

“It’s not a guarantee and it really defeats some of the core value of the gap year which is… really allowing somebody to say, who am I? What am I interested in? Let me go and follow up on these things and see where that goes and lead from that,” she says.

It’s vital for students to create a plan and identify specific goals for their gap year to avoid wasting time and money, says Robin Pendoley, founder and CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders.

“A gap year should be well structured to fill that specific need of finding that sense of direction and purpose for college,” he says. “It’s an important investment for them to be making of time, money and energy so that when they go on to college, they’re going to be well-prepared to do that and to dive in passionately and effectively for those four years.”

Finding the Right Gap Year Options

Depending on their goals and financial abilities, students have a plethora of options available to fill their gap year, from organized gap year programs, volunteer and service opportunities, internships, part-time jobs and specialized certifications.

“You have a whole pile of programs where there’s more structured support and they’re hooked in with peers and they’re doing service work, adventure travel sightseeing, language immersion,” says Bull.

Exploring different fields of interest can help students decide what major to pursue in college and gain valuable skills at the same time to later quantify to a future employer, says Liz Kuenstner, a former gap year student through Thinking Beyond Borders and a graduate of Columbia University.

“It can give you concrete experience towards what you think that you’re looking for but it also might reveal that what you think you’re really interested in, you don’t actually want to do for the next four years of your life,” she says. “If you’re doing something pre-professional, it’s really valuable just to get inside the office and see what day to day life is like and how people adjust.”

Gaining gap year work experience not only helps students become more acquainted with the ins and outs of a professional atmosphere, Pendoley explains it can also lead to additional resume-building opportunities.

“After having four different internships over two semesters, going to college and applying for internships, fellowships, jobs during their college experience, [students are] being offered almost everything they apply for specifically because they have four different experiences and employers really value that,” he says.

Because students can customize gap year plans to fit their financial, social and professional needs, finding a sense of direction for college rather than floundering from major to major is an invaluable investment, says Kuenstner.

“Having very small group cohesion in travelling with 15 other students for a year provided me something that Columbia certainly never did—it was a more intimate, personalized experience,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that I came out at the end knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but it gave me the tools to think about how I wanted to do college.”

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Thank you to my…

Thank you to my distinguished friends, President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Rev. Charles Howard for inviting me to share a few reflections on this joyous occasion. It is an honor and privilege to congratulate you — UPenn’s class of 2012.

Right now each one of you is sitting on the runway of life primed for takeoff. You are some of the world’s most gifted, elite, and driven college graduates – and you are undeniably ready to fly. So what I’m about to say next may sound a bit crazy. I want to urge you, not to fly, but to – walk. Four years ago, you walked into this marvelous laboratory of higher learning. Today, heads held high, you walk to receive your diplomas. Tomorrow, you will walk into a world of infinite possibilities.

But walking, in our high-speed world, has unfortunately fallen out of favor. The word “pedestrian” itself is used to describe something ordinary and commonplace. Yet, walking with intention has deep roots. Australia’s aboriginal youth go on walkabouts as a rite of passage; Native American tribes conduct vision quests in the wilderness; in Europe, for centuries, people have walked the Camino de Santiago, which spans the breadth of Spain. Such pilgrims place one foot firmly in front of the other, to fall in step with the rhythms of the universe and the cadence of their own hearts.

Back in 2005, six months into our marriage, my wife and I decided to “step it up” ourselves and go on a walking pilgrimage. At the peak of our efforts with ServiceSpace, we wondered if we had the capacity to put aside our worldly success and seek higher truths. Have you ever thought of something and then just known that it had to happen? It was one of those things. So we sold all our major belongings, and bought a one-way ticket to India. Our plan was to head to Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, since he had always been an inspiration to us, and then walk South. Between the two of us, we budgeted a dollar a day, mostly for incidentals — which meant that for our survival we had to depend utterly on the kindness of strangers. We ate whatever food was offered and slept wherever place was offered.

Now, I do have to say, such ideas come with a warning: do not try this at home, because your partner might not exactly welcome this kind of honeymoon. 🙂

For us, this walk was a pilgrimage — and our goal was simply to be in a space larger than our egos, and to allow that compassion to guide us in unscripted acts of service along the way. Stripped entirely of our comfort zone and accustomed identities, could we still “keep it real”? That was our challenge.

We ended up walking 1000 kilometers over three months. In that period, we encountered the very best and the very worst of human nature — not just in others, but also within ourselves.

Soon after we ended the pilgrimage, my uncle casually popped the million dollar question at the dinner table: “So, Nipun, what did you learn from this walk?” I didn’t know where to begin. But quite spontaneously, an acronym — W-A-L-K — came to mind, which encompassed the key lessons we had learned, and continue to relearn, even to this day. As you start the next phase of your journey, I want to share those nuggets with the hope that it might illuminate your path in some small way too.

The W in WALK stands for Witness. When you walk, you quite literally see more. Your field of vision is nearly 180 degrees, compared to 40 degrees when you’re traveling at 62 mph. Higher speeds smudge our peripheral vision, whereas walking actually broadens your canvas and dramatically shifts the objects of your attention. For instance, on our pilgrimage, we would notice the sunrise everyday, and how, at sunset, the birds would congregate for a little party of their own. Instead of adding Facebook friends online, we were actually making friends in person, often over a cup of hot “chai”. Life around us came alive in a new way.

A walking pace is the speed of community. Where high speeds facilitate separation, a slower pace gifts us an opportunity to commune.

As we traversed rural India at the speed of a couple of miles per hour, it became clear how much we could learn simply by bearing witness to the villagers’ way of life. Their entire mental model is different — the multiplication of wants is replaced by the basic fulfillment of human needs.When you are no longer preoccupied with asking for more and more stuff; then you just take what is given and give what is taken. Life is simple again. A farmer explained it to us this way: “You cannot make the clouds rain more, you cannot make the sun shine less. They are just nature’s gifts — take it or leave it.”

When the things around you are seen as gifts, they are no longer a means to an end; they are the means and the end. And thus, a cow-herder will tend to his animals with the compassion of a father, a village woman will wait 3 hours for a delayed bus without a trace of anger, a child will spend countless hours fascinated by stars in the galaxy, and finding his place in the vast cosmos.

So with today’s modernized tools at your ready disposal, don’t let yourself zoom obliviously from point A to point B on the highways of life; try walking the backroads of the world, where you will witness a profoundly inextricable connection with all living things.

The A in WALK stands for Accept. When walking in this way, you place yourself in the palm of the universe, and face its realities head on. We walked at the peak of summer, in merciless temperatures hovering above 120 degrees. Sometimes we were hungry, exhausted and even frustrated. Our bodies ached for just that extra drink of water, a few more moments in the shade, or just that little spark of human kindness. Many times we received that extra bit, and our hearts would overflow with gratitude. But sometimes we were abruptly refused, and we had to cultivate the capacity to accept the gifts hidden in even the most challenging of moments.

I remember one such day, when we approached a rest house along a barren highway. As heavy trucks whizzed past, we saw a sign, announcing that guests were hosted at no charge. “Ah, our lucky day,” we thought in delight. I stepped inside eagerly. The man behind the desk looked up and asked sharply, “Are you here to see the temple?” A simple yes from my lips would have instantly granted us a full meal and a room for the night. But it wouldn’t have been the truth. So instead, I said, “Well, technically, no sir. We’re on a walking pilgrimage to become better people. But we would be glad to visit the temple.” Rather abruptly, he retorted: “Um, sorry, we can’t host you.” Something about his curt arrogance triggered a slew of negative emotions. I wanted to make a snide remark in return and slam the door on my way out. Instead, I held my raging ego in check. In that state of physical and mental exhaustion, it felt like a Herculean task– but through the inner turmoil a voice surfaced within, telling me to accept the reality of this moment.

There was a quiet metamorphosis in me. I humbly let go of my defenses, accepted my fate that day, and turned to leave without a murmur. Perhaps the man behind the counter sensed this shift in me, because he yelled out just then, “So what exactly are you doing again?” After my brief explanation he said, “Look, I can’t feed you or host you, because rules are rules. But there are restrooms out in the back. You could sleep outside the male restroom and your wife can sleep outside the female restroom.” Though he was being kind, his offer felt like salt in my wounds. We had no choice but to accept.

That day we fasted and that night, we slept by the bathrooms. A small lie could’ve bought us an upgrade, but that would’ve been no pilgrimage. As I went to sleep with a wall separating me from my wife, I had this beautiful, unbidden vision of a couple climbing to the top of a mountain from two different sides. Midway through this difficult ascent, as the man contemplated giving up, a small sparrow flew by with this counsel, “Don’t quit now, friend. Your wife is eager to see you at the top.” He kept climbing. A few days later, when the wife found herself on the brink of quitting, the little sparrow showed up with the same message. Step by step, their love sustained their journey all the way to the mountaintop. Visited by the timely grace of this vision, I shed a few grateful tears — and this story became a touchstone not only in our relationship, but many other noble friendships as well.

So I encourage you to cultivate equanimity and accept whatever life tosses into your laps — when you do that, you will be blessed with the insight of an inner transformation that is yours to keep for all of time.

The L in WALK stands for Love. The more we learned from nature, and built a kind of inner resilience to external circumstances, the more we fell into our natural state — which was to be loving. In our dominant paradigm, Hollywood has insidiously co-opted the word, but the love I’m talking about here is the kind of love that only knows one thing — to give with no strings attached. Purely. Selflessly.

Most of us believe that to give, we first need to have something to give. The trouble with that is, that when we are taking stock of what we have, we almost always make accounting errors. Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Now-a-days, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” We have forgotten how to value things without a price tag. Hence, when we get to our most abundant gifts — like attention, insight, compassion — we confuse their worth because they’re, well, priceless.

On our walking pilgrimage, we noticed that those who had the least were most readily equipped to honor the priceless. In urban cities, the people we encountered began with an unspoken wariness: “Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?” In the countryside, on the other hand, villagers almost always met us with an open-hearted curiosity launching straight in with: “Hey buddy, you don’t look local. What’s your story?”

In the villages, your worth wasn’t assessed by your business card, professional network or your salary. That innate simplicity allowed them to love life and cherish all its connections.

Extremely poor villagers, who couldn’t even afford their own meals, would often borrow food from their neighbors to feed us. When we tried to refuse, they would simply explain: “To us, the guest is God. This is our offering to the divine in you that connects us to each other.” Now, how could one refuse that? Street vendors often gifted us vegetables; in a very touching moment, an armless fruit-seller once insisted on giving us a slice of watermelon. Everyone, no matter how old, would be overjoyed to give us directions, even when they weren’t fully sure of them. 🙂 And I still remember the woman who generously gave us water when we were extremely thirsty — only to later discover that she had to walk 10 kilometers at 4AM to get that one bucket of water. These people knew how to give, not because they had a lot, but because they knew how to love life. They didn’t need any credit or assurance that you would ever return to pay them back. Rather, they just trusted in the pay-it-forward circle of giving.

When you come alive in this way, you’ll realize that true generosity doesn’t start when you have some thing to give, but rather when there’s nothing in you that’s trying to take. So I hope that you will make all your precious moments an expression of loving life.

And lastly, the K in WALK stands for Know Thyself.

Sages have long informed us that when we serve others unconditionally, we shift from the me-to-the-we and connect more deeply with the other. That matrix of inter-connections allows for a profound quality of mental quietude. Like a still lake undisturbed by waves or ripples, we are then able to see clearly into who we are and how we can live in deep harmony with the environment around us.

When one foot walks, the other rests. Doing and being have to be in balance.

Our rational mind wants to rightfully ensure progress, but our intuitive mind also needs space for the emergent, unknown and unplanned to arise. Doing is certainly important, but when we aren’t aware of our internal ecosystem, we get so vested in our plans and actions, that we don’t notice the buildup of mental residue. Over time, that unconscious internal noise starts polluting our motivations, our ethics and our spirit. And so, it is critical to still the mind. A melody, after all, can only be created with the silence in between the notes.

As we walked — witnessed, accepted, loved — our vision of the world indeed grew clearer. That clarity, paradoxically enough, blurred our previous distinctions between me versus we, inner transformation versus external impact, and selfishness versus selflessness. They were inextricably connected. When a poor farmer gave me a tomato as a parting gift, with tears rolling down his eyes, was I receiving or giving? When sat for hours in silent meditation, was the benefit solely mine or would it ripple out into the world? When I lifted the haystack off an old man’s head and carried it for a kilometer, was I serving him or serving myself?

Which is to say, don’t just go through life — grow through life. It will be easy and tempting for you to arrive at reflexive answers — but make it a point, instead, to acknowledge mystery and welcome rich questions … questions that nudge you towards a greater understanding of this world and your place in it.

That’s W-A-L-K. And today, at this momentous milestone of your life, you came in walking and you will go out walking. As you walk on into a world that is increasingly aiming to move beyond the speed of thought, I hope you will each remember the importance of traveling at the speed of thoughtfulness. I hope that you will take time to witness our magnificent interconnections. That you will accept the beautiful gifts of life even when they aren’t pretty, that you will practice loving selflessly and strive to know your deepest nature.

I want to close with a story about my great grandfather. He was a man of little wealth who still managed to give every single day of his life. Each morning, he had a ritual of going on a walk — and as he walked, he diligently fed the ant hills along his path with small pinches of wheat flour. Now that is an act of micro generosity so small that it might seem utterly negligible, in the grand scheme of the universe. How does it matter? It matters in that it changed him inside. And my great grandfather’s goodness shaped the worldview of my grandparents who in turn influenced that of their children — my parents. Today those ants and the ant hills are gone, but my great grandpa’s spirit is very much embedded in all my actions and their future ripples. It is precisely these small, often invisible, acts of inner transformation that mold the stuff of our being, and bend the arc of our shared destiny.

On your walk, today and always, I wish you the eyes to see the anthills and the heart to feed them with joy.

May you be blessed. Change yourself — change the world.

This is a transcript of the Baccalaureate address to UPenn’s graduating class of 2012, delivered by Nipun Mehta. Nipun is the founder of ServiceSpace.org, a nonprofit that works at the intersection of gift-economy, technology and volunteerism. His popular TED talk Designing for Generosity provides an overview of their work and guiding principles.

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Letter from Rajeev Natarajan

year_on_note_signed

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Letter from Nikhilesh Tayal, cvbhejo

cvbhejogapyear

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Letter from Purvi Shah

June 2013

Dear Reader,

Today, a ‘gap year’ has been described as a modern day rite of passage and opportunities to not only take advantage of the natural break between college and or further education, but to unplug from the everyday classroom.

One of the significant aspects of my sixteen years of practice as a Psychologist in various schools locally and internationally has been of enabling, assisting young minds to discover their purpose, potential with a great emphasis on their emotional wellbeing.

In their academic journeys, students have shared that for them ‘gap year’ was about getting in touch with ‘what i can, what I want to do with myself, to ignite a desire for change, awake a passion for learning.  This ‘year on’ attitude exposes a young adult to multiple fields by providing a chance to reboot into a new style of learning, to embark on real work and world experiences and to gain a better sense of identity and self confidence.

In my opinion, a gap year is a very essential process globally, for students of all kinds of age groups, career paths and cultural backgrounds.

However, I do recommend the young adults to choose, to seek opportunities in the gap year that will help one grow as a person, experiences that will truly challenge one emotionally, physically, and intellectually.     A gap year can afford the time to travel, volunteer, or meet personal goals one may not have had time to achieve otherwise.

The whole point of the gap year(s) experience is to grow up-to strike out on One’s own, and be forced to survive by one’s own wits.

As my friend puts it, a gap year is not just about extending one’s adolescence; it allows the time for purposeful and informed decision making.  From the top Ivy League Universities to private college consultants, experts in higher education are saying that taking a gap year can do nothing but benefit high school graduates. I urge other School and College Counsellors in India and abroad to encourage, advocate the ‘year on’ philosophy in their organizations with students.

I can officially say that there are definite advantages to taking a gap year worth considering.

Wishing You Well!!!!

Ms. Purvi Shah

 

Clinical and Counselling Psychologist
Member of Australian Psychological Society, MAPS
Pioneer member of Counsellors Association of India, CAI

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In the news…

http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/youth/article3496444.ece

 

http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Mumbai/Gap-year-initiatives-catch-students-interest/Article1-836225.aspx

 

http://www.udaipurtimes.com/take-a-year-break-from-studies-get-smart/#more-22220

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Letter from Nikhil Sanghvi

It is said that every day we make tremendous number of discoveries which all go unnoticed by us because we are so preoccupied with our daily routine. For instance, only whilst pondering regarding the beginning of my work life again did I realise/discover a very interesting facet of my life. That the decision to take time off in July, 2011 was the only one which was made by me without any outside pressures or conditioning! I deem it to be an exercise of pure volition.

This is not to say that every aspect of our lives is dependent or not dependent upon various social factors that surround us (I do not wish to make this into “Sociology 101” discourse!). What I simply figured was that as we grow up as kids in India in average urban middle and upper middle class families everything seems to be preordained for us by our families and the society. Study hard, good grades, 90% in Boards, good college, good grades again, good job, good salary and finally the process of settling down which includes getting married and having kids. Till the abovementioned processes have not been finished, we have been in bred with a guilty conscience regarding non-fulfilment of duties essential to our existence!

More or less I met with some of these abovementioned processes (can also be termed as expectations) albeit not always coming off as the perfect kid. I fondly remember the time when I got through National Law School, Bangalore amongst other law colleges and was suddenly deemed to be intelligent by various people who one day earlier would not have considered me to be so smart! Definitely it was redemption for a kid who belongs to a family of successful persons in the traditional sense of the word. I had messed up my 10th Boards and after interaction with my cousins who had begun this NGO called “Shikshantar” at that time, my need to prove myself in 12th Boards had in any case withered away. I had been enlightened regarding the tremendous faults in our great education system and any inclination to gain those studly 90% Board marks was nil (I also used this anecdote of screwing up in my Boards with great vehemence and pride later to tell others as to how less they mattered in the longer run once I was accepted in NLS). Little did I realise that time that entering into law school itself was not a free choice and expression of my interest but rather the desperate attempts of a kid who was unclear as to what life holds for him and merely joined an Institute, ironically, to prove himself to others.

After a life altering Law School experience, I decided to enter into litigation in Jaipur, Rajasthan- the great town of my birth! My sole infatuation with the law was due to its sheer ability to make a difference in the society. Being brought up within an atmosphere of idealism amongst people of such tremendous integrity had caused the same to become an inherent part of my psyche. Hence, despite all the cynical views which were poured over me, I decided that I should work in a smaller place over a big metro like Delhi and try to make a difference. Although what kind of difference I was looking to make, I was unsure of. It took a good one and a half years to get rid of that incredibly idealistic picture and allow disillusionment to complicate things in my life again. Yet again I enforced a choice which I believed would still be socially acceptable- which was to sign up for further studies in the Ivy League colleges in the US. What I wished to study or pursue further I was more or less uncertain about. Ah yes! I do remember that I wanted to have a comparative analysis of the judicial system in the two countries to understand how issues of delays in litigation can be dealt with better in India but whether I had read up sufficiently upon it or whether I was required to pursue a masters for such an analysis I was not sure of. I guess that reason came to my head just because I thought that well the only way to get out of the rut was to pursue masters.

While applying for the same, I became certain that this exercise in itself is also not that fruitful since my reasons for applying to me seemed frivolous. By the end of March, 2011, I was asked to decide regarding my future by various parties including my folks. I felt I needed more time. This uncertainty regarding my future plans somehow reminded me of the various activities I wished to pursue but had not been able to because of work and other factors. So I decided that before I join any active legal work, I should acquire certain new skills which I wished to at least pursue as hobbies throughout my life. Rock Climbing and Mountaineering were clear off-shoots of such an exploration and grew to be my passion.

When I do reflect upon the past nine months of life though I realise that my time away from the mainstream legal arena has in fact allowed me to gain a very different perspective regarding many things in life rather than a standardised perspective of a professional litigator. I tried my hand at not so mainstream activities (most people are yet to understand the difference between rock climbing and mountaineering!) and ended up interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. The reaction of most people from my field was of disbelief, bafflement and concealed contempt at my naivety in not realising the major advantage I was letting go of, or not exploiting, considering my family background. In fact I often faced subtle admonitions from many “well-wishers” about how its time I acquired some seriousness in life (effectively it implied I should get back to fulfilling mainstream expectations). In the beginning I made idiotic attempts at trying in vain to explain my predicament to people and my necessity for such a choice. However, soon wisdom dawned upon me and I would consider such remarks with quiet amusement grinning to my own self, trying to avoid my natural urge to argue, rationalise, debate upon the subject.

The surprising revelation was the sheer contentment and happiness I was experiencing in life. Many people who attempt to take such similar “breaks/year offs” tell me that they very soon get disgruntled and feel useless and unproductive and cannot wait to be back in the field. I however faced no such quandary. My daily schedule consisted of climbing et. el. till the afternoon, working out more to get in shape and then reading various books, playing with my dog, practising the guitar, learning to cook etc. I read a lot about nutrition, discovered a lot about my body’s limits. Life was amazing. There were many experiences which I cannot detail here which were quite incredible as they led to many other small discoveries on a daily basis.

I remember my interactions with my cousin Manish and his prodding me to in fact rediscover many aspects of life which I was missing out on. He would call it self-empowerment and base it upon the “Gandhian” way of life which was imbibed as per him in “Swaraj” and meant ensuring that we gain control of different aspects of our life rather than become the specialists that today’s modern life propagates. To know how to cook, do basic chores, basic medicine, using basic tools was essential for our very existence and led to a very satisfying experience. Such a way of life does not hold a very promising response from the mainstream society in terms of achievements. I had however, realised by now that the usual norms of success and satisfaction were not applicable to me! I couldn’t care much about gaining appreciation of peers considering my different outlook towards life and at the same time I dare not say that I was a rebel who was out of it all and needed no one’s concern. I merely wish to state that the futility of such false appreciation had dawned upon me and it had become increasingly obvious that it is most satisfying if you love what you do. The law was a tool I always considered to be of great importance to bring significant change in the society and may be it still is but not how I had perceived it to be.

I do remember that in the last few months when my deadline was coming closer, I had repeated, ominous reminders of the sword hanging on my head from many people. Considering my love for the lifestyle I had acquired, I also became very disturbed at my indecision regarding the more “practical choice” in life. Also after seeing lawyers to be yet another part of the system I felt cheated by the futility of it all. The inability to decide had led me to conclude the pointlessness of existence per se (I am glad I did not read more existential philosophy during this period!). I would question my every choice as being futile and useless and unsatisfactory. I would curse the lack of options when I was a kid- the lack of facilities, of infrastructure, of coaching which forced me into giving up my innate proclivity towards sports and physical exercise.

Many people told me to leave litigation as well and consider other options but the one which were recommended to me barely seemed like options. More importantly I also realised that I, all said and done, was cowardly and afraid. The rebel in me had limits. I was the “Steppenwolf” (suicidal but would never take the plunge!). I came to agree with the hard fact that I had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and was unwilling to completely let go of it and my current lifestyle could not be sustained for long. Economic viability of any activity is ultimately a hard hitting factor which one has to consider – especially one who is not a complete rebel! I guess in many ways when one jokes about taking off into the hills, it is merely a half-wish the entire consequence of which no one wishes to bear. I must admit I never entirely gave a very serious thought to anything except the more pragmatic option of getting back to litigation which I did not completely abhor.

Today in March 2012, I have finally made the call of undertaking litigation under a lawyer in Delhi High Court after much consultation and much indecision (I am still unsure whether it’s a voluntary decision or a forced one due to the deadline which I had given everyone in my family to curb their anxieties and fears regarding my future!) It’s a lesson in life for us to understand that with the growth of options and choices today also arises the unsettling task of making those choices! Life for previous generations in many ways was simpler this way since there path was fixed for them by their forefathers.

Now that I am back into it, cynicism is an instinctive reaction, but I have learnt the importance of patience as well. In fact, when I look forward to it- many of my preconceived notions regarding how I shall proceed in the profession stand dispelled today. I am free of many prejudices I held due to this exposure I received in my life. The most refreshing bit is that I do not consider it a burden anymore. Plans which had been chalked out in my head for years to come have crumbled to make way for developing life on a more short term basis. I still think that my new endeavour is merely another temporary experience which will help me realise further what it is that I wish to pursue or rather experience in life. The last nine months though were truly remarkable in terms of the impact they have had – as Manish rightly told me- “do not call it a year-off- that would deem it unproductive! Call it a ‘year-on’!”

While moving ahead I now keep this philosophy in my head- “The mystery of life is not a problem to solve, but a reality to experience!”

(pardon the errors since it is just something off the rack..)

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Letter from Gauri Bhure, Mahindra World College

Letter from Gauri Bhure and Nandita Dinesh, Mahindra World College, Pune.

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Letter from Sagar Atre

Bridging the gap of live experience:

If there was one thing which I missed during the days of my education, it was the excitement of doing something original, and learning from it. I am a child of a mother who is always restless in life, and hence, she sees to it that her kids too, are as restless as she is! However, down the years, I’ve really learnt the importance of seeing life as it is on the outside of a classroom, rather than within it.

My gap year, and the events leading to that decision happened in quick succession. In June 2008, I attended the Nirman series of camps conducted by a organization named the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), Gadchiroli, run by well-known public health experts Dr Abhay and Rani Bang. The mission behind Nirman was simple, involve and encourage the youth of today to challenge social problems and work on them. In a session, Dr Abhay Bang, while speaking on working for the people, said, “What you need to do today is to get into the fray. Spend some time out of your comfort zone, work and be with people you usually are not with. I would like to call this approach, arm-wrestling with life. Go out and learn how life is lived. Learning from life has innumerable lessons to give you, it will teach you things which will enrich not only your intellect, but your soul as well. Moreover, it will give what you do as a profession, a sense of purpose, it will define why you do something.” Nirman also offered a year-long or two-year long fellowship for its students. Through this, the candidate would live in a community, work with a host organization and tackle one well-defined social problem as a part of his fellowship.

I was in the final year of my bachelors in Pharmacy, and frankly, I was still searching for what I really wanted to do. Hearing about the Nirman Fellowship, I immediately began toying with the idea of going to Gadchiroli and working on a problem. The reason why I decided to take this fellowship was both personal, and also because I wanted to define the role I could play in society. I wanted to take on a real challenge, and I hence decided to join the fellowship at SEARCH, Gadchiroli for a year on June 23, 2009.

SEARCH was a place where I challenged all my weaknesses. I had decided to do it, and I had a hard time doing it. My first and foremost weakness was my shyness. I still remember the time when I stepped into a village all by myself, and tried to talk to a villager over some issues. India’s villagers are the best! Not only did I have engaging conversations, but the sheer purity of their hearts was something which surprised me. Seldom was I turned away without a cup of hot, (extremely!) sweet tea. As I began talking to the people, my inhibitions slowly melted away. I worked as a pharmacist at the SEARCH pharmacy, and I counseled people about the usage of medicines. During that time, I was stunned to know the callousness by which government hospitals dealt with situations. Tuberculosis doses were often left incomplete; people had to go to Primary health centers to get their medicines. Every time they went to a health center, treatment and proper attention was not guaranteed. Those counseling sessions in the SEARCH hospital were times when I revised all my lessons from my education, and if today, I remember a great deal of information about some medicines and don’t about others, it’s because my knowledge had undergone a need-based update!

I then decided to work on a social business (no-profit, no loss) business model to take simple medicines to villages where they did not reach them. I attempted to sell them through a youngster who sold jewelry in villages, through a young lad I trained and accompanied to a lot of villages, and ultimately, to know what was going wrong with tries of selling medicines this way, I sold medicines in villages myself. For eight days, I roamed door-to-door in villages, trying to sell simple medications to people who were ill. It was a revealing, sometimes quite humiliating and unforgettable experience. Many-a-times, I was literally driven away by people for disturbing them. Sometimes, people treated me with respect, while sometimes, they were happy to receive medicines on their doorstep. In the times when I was driven away, it crushed my ego, and I would frequently feel terrible after something like that happened. However, I later learnt to take it in my stride. Those eight days and the experiences they gave me made me a better human at all levels. My ego was cut down to size, I had learnt to do some kind of business, and I knew what problems villagers in those regions faced most frequently.

Apart from work, SEARCH was a rather lively place, full of youth from different backgrounds and bearing different dreams. I made lifelong friends, and I worked and enjoyed with them like never before. Some friends and I worked on an intervention program for hypertension, and we held night meetings in villages where again, we interacted with people as equals. Life in India’s villages is nothing like the exotic videos tourists capture in their cameras. We had a few unruly scenes and arguments with villagers, but the experience was enough to teach us how tough it was to bring change anywhere. It’s a long process, and its based on your relationships with people. When we became frequent visitors and the people gained our trust, we were heartened to see people listening to us. Due to some unfortunate events however, the program had to be terminated.

When I look back at the gap year, I feel that many lessons that year taught me are still seeping into me, slowly and steadily. However, if there was some immediate takeaway which I learnt, it was that life is never as narrow as you see around you. As humans, we are bound to be caught up with the happenings and situations in surroundings around us. We can never fathom what happens outside our field of vision without actually seeing and experiencing new places and people. Romain Rolland, in a talk, once said, “Man should see suffering around him. But that experience should not be like a titillation which stirs the soul for a moment and ends with no action. Man must experience suffering until the tears in his eyes dry up, and are replaced with a resoluteness that drives him to action.” Unfortunately, most of our lives are still bound by a rigid system where we are trained to focus on ourselves. This system refuses to let us step out of it and do something different. It will revere those who disregard it and become successful, but that reverence is tinged with a feeling of relief; a sense of relief that says ‘I don’t need to do this, I don’t need to step out and suffer and bring about change; other people will take care of society’s problems’. My year outside the system destroyed a lot of my preconceptions and narrow- mindedness. It emptied my cup which was full of my own ideas, and it gave me the ability that I would empty it again when the time arises. The world is too big a place for anyone to grasp fully, and it will be foolish for anyone to claim otherwise. However, what frightens me is that without this gap year, my life would have gone on without giving me a sense of how big and phenomenal this world is.

This year will always remain most special to me, because it broadened the definition of life as nothing had done before. If I live a more fruitful, more giving life in the future, it will always be because of what that year gave and taught me. To all those who wonder about ‘wasting’ a year in doing what you like and finding out what you want to do, I will push them to go for it! You will never repent doing what you love, you will add many years to your life, and not waste one, profitable mathematics, I think! My time as a social businessman seems to be paying off!

– Sagar Atre

Worked at SEARCH, Gadchiroli from June 2009-July 2010. Currently studying as a Master’s
student in Journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, Athens,
Ohio, USA.

E-mail: sratre@gmail.com

Categories: Gap years, year off | Leave a comment

Letter from Ishan Raval, Year-On Taker

The first, most prominent, thought that comes to mind when asked to describe my Year On is that it was the best thing I’ve decided to do in my life. The thought of doing such a thing was put in my head about halfway through my 11th std. by my parents. Though I was initially somewhat apprehensive, on thinking more about it, I agreed that this would be a good step to take. When I first began telling people that I was taking the unorthodox step of removing myself from the formal educational system for a year, I was told by some that I would be losing a year. I was told that I would feel a void of a year later on in life, and that I’d be better off just enrolling into the best possible engineering program. To be fair to those well-wishers, it hasn’t yet been that ‘later on’ in life, but at this stage, I can without doubt say that I feel as if I’ve gained a year. Now in college in the US, viewing myself in relation to my peers, I feel that I can look at the world from more varied angles, and look at life more deeply, than I would have otherwise. Pretentious as it may seem to someone who hasn’t experienced it, I truly feel that I have become more thoughtful, aware and generally enriched as a person in the past one-and-a- half years than I would have in another year within the system. But just because of the wide variety of people I exposed myself to and worked with, and because of the practice I gave myself in living independently, I feel that I am able to hold myself with more confidence and tactfulness in college. Such practical benefits aside, by living and viewing life outside the system from one year, I know that the path I’m on at the only moment isn’t the only way I have to lead my life, for both today and tomorrow.

The very insights about the nature of the Machine you can get from viewing it from afar are tremendous and profound. Though personal and ultimately somewhat different for each person, I’d be surprised to find anyone who could get such a bird’s-eye view of the system and not see it for the ridiculous charade it is. I’d visit school from time-to-time and instead of a student body working, I’d see a stampede of docile kids pushing each other to get to illusory goals that really don’t reflect any worthwhile merit. Be they exams or career options, most things related to the educational system seemed more unreasonable than they already had.

The insights you can get out about yourself are also very worthwhile. If you’re not bogged down by the expectations of being a part of the system and have enough free time, you’re bound to end up reflecting about yourself and the world for at least some time. For me, for some time, it became an obsession. Embarking upon on a journey of self-discovery and intellectual inquiry into abstract matters of the meaning in life and the nature of the self is something I unintentionally got into during my break.

Answers are not easy to come, at least with the questions I have been searching for, but the very act of searching is an act of mental vitality that simply was not open while being in the system. Though now back in the system and far from satisfyingly having found my answers, I am still yearningly pursuing them… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And if nothing else, even if you don’t learn more about yourself, you certainly learn how to deal with yourself much better. Just with the amount of unoccupied time you get where you’re compulsorily your only company, your mind takes you down lanes you may have subconsciously avoided for a very long time. It is impossible to hide from them now. No matter how busy you try to keep yourself, no one can do the job of disconnecting you from yourself like the frenzying system can.

Finally, there are the obvious gains in the physical realm of getting to see new places, of meeting new people, and of broadening one’s horizons. Of course, such physical experiences also are vital and complementary to the gain within you. For instance, I never did realize how important my mother-tongue was to me until I spent a month without a hearing a sound of it in the South. Moreover, the very possibility to engage yourself in activities and with people whom you could not have been exposed to within the constraints of the Machine can be boundlessly enriching.

Of course, no experience can be solely positive. There will for sure be some pitfalls that come out of taking a break. There could be times of loneliness, and some dis-attachment from the friends of your very recent past. This is unavoidable in a decision wherein you deliberately go one direction, and let all of your friends go the other. This, however, says nothing of the vastly more diverse range of friends you can make during a break. My experiences at Shikshantar <www.shikshantar.in> are testimony to this – where I not only made excellent friends of all ages, but saw a radically different groundwork upon which friendships can be created. And, as mentioned earlier, loneliness too can teach you an amazing amount of things about yourself.

Here are some lessons that I learnt along the way:

There were a number of junctions at which I was be tempted into taking decisions imprudent for all the fulfillment and productivity that a break can provide. These slippery slopes are the routine entertainment and addictive retreat-forms of our daily lives – television, facebook, etc. It’s immensely easy, with all the free time available, to while away time in such endeavours, but I regret the moments I did so. I spent a considerable time of my break enslaved by a couple of TV shows (luckily, I soon developed an ideological aversion to TV). Facebook, of course, is an everyday black hole. I’d call these and other such things mere distractions. Not even because of anything inherently wrong with them (though one could even make that argument), but simply because there are so many better things to do.

Also, one mistake that I’d warn any potential break-takers against making is to not plan. By this I’m not referring to planning out a hour-by-hour, rigid itinerary for your days. Spontaneity and flexibility are invaluable in their place. What I’m drawing attention to is to not wait till the last moment, or even past it if you’re like me, to plan an undertaking. Or an example in more direct terms… looking to volunteer with an organization in June, I should have started searching in March! Or even earlier. I learnt that I can’t twiddle my thumbs and wake up one day thinking that the world will fall into place. It doesn’t. Promptness, persistence, and starting early, that’s what does. As far as all affairs requiring engagement with the worldly world go, that’s my biggest piece of advice.

Such advice is not at all meant to be discouragement. The positives described here are intended to be very direct encouragements for the idea of taking a break. So, in conclusion, I offer my heartiest recommendation to take the plunge. You’ll come out revitalized and enriched, as if you’ve just been born. Or at the very least, you’ll feel like you’ve come out of a coma. If you decide to re-enter the system, you may not feel like being in it again… and that may not be such a bad thing. Who knows what exciting, dazzling possibilities that will throw forward in your life? And even if you want to stay in the system afterwards, you’ll be a whole new different dimension of insight and experience.

But in either case, it’s a good move. So go on… take a break. If you have any questions or need help strategizing your year on, feel free to write to me.

Ishan Raval,
Baroda/Raleigh

Categories: Gap years, year off | 2 Comments

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