Why I Am Taking A Gap Year!


As I stressfully prepare to leave my home next week for 8 months in India, I’ve begun to reflect on what exactly prompted me to take a gap year. It’s an idea I’ve been tossing around for years, but never fully committed to until my senior year. I thought for my first blog post it would only be fitting to post one of the essays that got me into Global Citizen Year in the first place!

Imagine staying grounded in one place forever. You’d see the same people everyday, go to the same places, experience life in a way that is comfortable and familiar to you. The beliefs you grew up with, the values you hold dear to your heart, the mind that has been shaped through years of this sameness, it would all be stagnant, forever on hold from developing into something more. Your mind wouldn’t be capable of comprehending the entire world around it— and accepting that world as it is. It’s difficult to understand and appreciate a world you’ve never seen, a world you have been too scared to explore. Your comfort zone would be so small because you’ve never had a chance to expand it, as you’ve always too afraid to go outside of what you know— of who you know.

But that isn’t me, it used to be, but not anymore. I took opportunities that would unhinge me from my secure life and place me in new, sometimes terrifying situations that I, alone, learned to handle and adapt to. I try to constantly push myself to live new experiences, such as my trip to the Dominican Republic where I was able to volunteer and interact with people and a culture that was different from my own. I then jumped at the opportunity to join the Lions program and live with a host family in Japan for a month. Last summer, I created an itinerary to plan every detail and cost of a road trip that enabled me to travel with my friends across the country. This spring, I even graduated from high school early to live in Colombia for three months and teach English. I gained knowledge from the world that I could’ve never acquired in years of schooling: like how to live independently, communicate with people who are vastly different from you, and see the world through a new lens. These experiences built understanding in me, as I grew to love how each experience shaped me, and appreciate the cultures that shaped them. I learned to live for myself— and how that can help me live for the benefit of others. If my life can make the even smallest sliver of a positive impact in someone else’s, then I will know that I have lived well. I am continuing this journey next year because it will allow me to continue my exploration of myself, my mind, my body, and my soul, as well as my exploration of others and their unique worlds and perspectives. I want to live my life in a way that when I look back, I see that I had a purpose, and I took the chances that allowed me to display my courage, compassion, and curiosity for life, rather than eternally languishing in my comfort zone. I hold a staunch belief that traveling around the globe will transform me, day by day, into the person I dream to be, and a gap year is just one step, amongst many, that will lead me to that goal.


In a week, I leave to live in India for 8 months instead of starting my freshman year of college like most people my age. I will be teaching English through the programs Global Citizen Year and Teach for India, as well as living with a host family and becoming fluent in Hindi. I am nervous, I am excited, and I can’t wait to keep learning and making a difference in the world. I believe everyone should get these opportunities to explore and grow, and that is why I am strongly urging high schoolers to consider taking a gap year instead of starting college next year. Don’t think of it as a gap in your education, think of it as a bridge in combining your adolescence to your adulthood. In the words of Abby Falik, the founder of Global Citizen Year, “…leave the country. Immerse yourself in a new culture and community. When you come back you’ll bring the experience and perspectives that will guide your education, shape your character, inform your leadership and, through you, America’s continued leadership in the world.”



Leonie Tollefson

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The photo is from my time volunteering in the Dominican Republic!

You can also follow my personal travel blog at www.livingcuriously.blog!