First off, you can’t convince your parents. Not completely anyway, because I really think that parents need to convince themselves. You can talk about how a bridge year is going to change your life and you’ll return with a new set of skills and you’ll be a new person, but that doesn’t really mean anything to them, at least not yet. Honestly, if you’re looking at taking a bridge year, that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to you either. Often times when looking forward into the future at paths we can take, especially during pivotal years of our lives, there is a lot of ambiguity coupled with abstract ideas without concrete foundations. I know it sucks, but you’re not going to change the world.
I understand that some people are going to take a bridge year in order to boost their resume or have something to write an essay about, but I want to say now that if this is your intention, then taking a bridge year is not for you. This is about uncertainty and nervousness, not a bullet point or a minimum character count. Taking a bridge year is about casting off societal chains and choosing your own path – and learning how to make mistakes.
If you’re considering taking a bridge year or your parents are on the edge, here are a couple things you can bring up.
1) You need a break, plain and simple.
3 months for summer vacation just might not be enough. You have to work, volunteer, apply, get ready for classes, etc., but a bridge year allows you an entire school year to recharge your battery and find out what’s really important to you. We live draining lives in a society that emphasizes productivity and quantifiable success over real victories like effective communication or empathy put into practice. You’ve been guided and filled up and drained and filled up again, without ever catching your breath.
Here’s how I think of it: music genres. You know when you’re really into a specific type of music, like rock for example, every variation is completely different to you? Punk-rock, garage-rock, alt-rock, etc., but when you’re removed from the genre, like jazz, it all sounds the same to you.
College is school. It’s not high school or junior high, but it is school, and the thing is that once you’re listening to the same genre over and over, you never experience what’s out there. So get jazzy. 12 years of school is hard with the academia, social life, extracurriculars, and then trying to find time for the things you love.
2) You need to figure out what you want.
While I recognize that these big abstract ideas are difficult to grapple with, I firmly believe that taking time off just to focus on your own growth will help you find direction. Maybe you won’t have an epiphany that points you to exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life, but you’ll know what you don’t want to do for sure.
Also, purpose isn’t just laying around for you to find, but you’ll learn how to create it. After spending so long around your family, school, community that you’re comfortable with, you need to see what kind of person you are outside of your context. We are all different depending on where we are and who we’re with. What is your authentic self? How do you react to situations you’re uncomfortable with? This is the meat of who you are.
3) It will be hard, and that’s the point.
Without that struggle, accomplishment would not be as rewarding as it is with. When I was in the 5th grade I cried when I realized that if we got homework everyday, we could never relax at home–there was always something more and that’s the point. Yet! Somedays when you’re a senior in high school with hours of a workload, you work hard in class, get everything done early, and breathe for a little.
Understand and accept that in order to grow you need to be experiencing hardships and going about living them in new and innovative ways. Being bad at something is the first step.
4) You’re going to change (for the better).
Yes, you can look in the future, but the fact of the matter is you’re going to visit a foreign country you’ve never been to and live with a family of people you never even imagined existed.
Things will happen that you never expected! Maybe you think you’re an open-minded person but this gap year is the shady dude with a crowbar that busts open your truck. And maybe he’s stealing your subs, or maybe he’s helping you out because your truck is jammed. Ask why the mother spanked her daughter, and talk to the guy with a hammer and sickle on his motorcycle during his smoke break.
The development of your maturity, your problem-solving capabilities, your social skills and your “I’m an idiot but that’s okay” skills all depend on how you choose to react to the things that are going to happen. React with curiosity, empathy, and kindness, but absolutely stay true to yourself (even if you don’t know exactly who that is yet).