Why I’m Taking a Gap Year

Noah Montemarano - India

August 21, 2017

I’ve always thought of myself as a good student. I work hard. I pay attention in all my classes. I receive decent grades and test scores. Yet when I come home and sit in front of my schoolwork, I dread it.

This isn’t the boredom that some students feel about school work altogether; I enjoy my classes.

Instead I dread my own expectations of failure and the fear that my teachers will be disappointed in my work. I dread the pressure I put on myself to work harder than before. I dread the late nights staring at my computer screen, the faint buzz of the monitor in my ears as I rethink every sentence of an english essay, a history paper, a lab report. Not out of love for the subject but out a nagging desire to prove myself to others.

The worst part about my desire to improve is that it interferes with my actual passion for a subject. When I was a young boy, I loved to play with model science kits. I loved to write in my daily journal. I loved to read. I’d spent hours in my room with dinosaur stories that inspired dreams of becoming a paleontologist and space novels that inspired dreams of becoming an astronaut. I dreamed of becoming a doctor. A firefighter. A president. Fantasy series inspired dreams of becoming a knight, a Jedi, or a wizard.

So how is it that a little boy who believed he could become anything is now completely unconvinced of his ability to succeed? Ironically I’m much more accomplished than I was at six years old. With an acceptance to a great college and a decent resume, I’m better suited to pursue most (emphasis on most) of my dreams than before. Yet I feel confused. And I don’t know what I want to be because I’ve long been conforming to other people’s standards.

As I prepared for college, I contemplated a future of more of the same. Late night textbook readings. Groggy morning lectures. Not so much an aspiration towards some dream as a constant avoidance of failure. I felt reluctant to go. Then I felt guilty for being reluctant to pursue an opportunity I was fortunate to have.

That's when I sat down in my bedroom armchair and revisited a novel I read sophomore year, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. In its last chapters the main character rejects an acceptance to Oxford University to work in a Rhodesian mine. Two years earlier, I thought his decision was bizarre: now I understood it only as a desire for self-reliance. As the book’s title implies, the decision reaffirmed his ability to steer his own fate and create his own unique mark on the world.

As I put the book down, I realized my own need for self-reliance. I realized my own desire to work for a purpose that I believed in.

My friend Elise Steenburgh had told me about Global Citizen Year (check out her blog at http://archive.globalcitizenyear.org/author/elise-steenburgh/ ) and I submitted an application. Overtime I learned more about the program, that the Fellows live with a host family, that their diverse apprenticeships benefit the local communities, that they return more inspired to do community work at home. Although guarded and skeptical, the prospect of admission excited me.

Weeks later, I was accepted as part of the India program. The country is suffering from a dire shortage of teachers and complex educational crisis (I will eventually write a blog post focusing on the crisis.) So along with many other India fellows, I was assigned to help teach young children. I find it ironic that I am leaving college only to move to another school. But there I’ll be working to make a real difference to the world. I’ll be working with a purpose. And I’m hoping that as an assistant, I can inspire them with the purpose and confidence I so often lacked in school.

Upon returning, maybe I'll have my own renewed purpose and a reinvigorated confidence to forge my own path in life. But for now, I’ll continue to work hard. I’ve already a flight booked to California to meet up with the other Fellows. The program booked a flight to Pune several days afterwards. I’ve received all my vaccinations and antibiotics. I’ve visited the embassy twice. I’ve packed nearly everything, including a journal and a small stack of books for future inspiration. Now I’m just waiting for what comes next – waiting with a little anxiety, but mostly with hope.

Noah Montemarano