Editor’s Note: Writer Grace Stroup is a sophomore English and religious studies double major from Arlington, Virginia. Grace is also a Carolina Social Influencer.
Two years ago to the day, I walked through Tegallalang: one of the world’s most popular, and arguably most beautiful, rice fields. I spent my morning as a kindergarten assistant in Ubud proper, sounding out letters and acting out jungle animals with the young children. The rice fields were lush, full of vegetation unfamiliar to my eye and wonderfully quiet. The sun set as I walked up and down hills, through streams and paddies, and back up the street to the house that truly felt like my own.
I spent the first month of my gap year in Bali learning how to teach kindergarten as all of my best friends packed their lives into cars and drove to college. I spent the next month working in Vietnam serving soup in a city of 10 million and another month in Sri Lanka renovating a Buddhist monastery in a hidden and tiny village. I ended back in the comfort of my living room in December.
I spent January basking in the light and love of Cape Town, teaching kids to surf and play rugby and hiking Table Mountain. As winter turned to spring, I made my way north and found comfort in the suburban village of Sale, a small community just outside of Rabat, Morocco, where I taught French and English at a woman’s center. I moved further north for my last three months, where I worked in London and got comfortable in the rhythms of the United Kingdom. I returned home with a plethora of stories and memories that I look back at today with immense fondness.
According to the dictionary, a gap year is a period of time, usually an academic or calendar year, in which a student takes a break from school to travel, work or volunteer, typically after ending high school and before starting college. While that is a great definition, I would change a couple of things. A gap year, for me, is time, space, growth and change.
I had decided to take a year off from higher education with the singular goal of enjoying myself. When I was a junior in high school, I decided to research gap years and to take one myself. I spent my senior year juggling my plans for school with my plans for the world.
The only problem? Not all of the schools I was applying to would let me defer for a year. Luckily, Carolina allows incoming students to defer for a year with the sole goal of travel and work.
The Global Gap Year Fellowship is a highly selective award given to a high school graduates who have been admitted to Carolina as part of the university’s early action deadline. Once admitted, students must apply for the fellowship, which provides an $8,000 stipend to each student.
The fellowship offers students guidance, support and community once students are accepted. There is a shared understanding of what it means to travel alone at a young age and how it can change, and enhance, someone’s life.
I didn’t know about the fellowship when I applied to Carolina, but I was able to form unique relationships with everyone from my year’s cohort. My first-year roommate and I met at a random coffee shop in the middle of Cape Town, and we shared a suite with two friends (and fellows) too. The fellowship community is inviting and opening and has led me to some of my best friends at Carolina. If you’re interested, be sure to apply to Carolina early!
The 10 months that I traveled alone were some of the most impactful and active of my life. The path was not straight, and certainly not easy, but it changed my life. I am so happy that I gave myself space from school to try something completely different. I saw immense changes in myself that I am not so sure I would have found had I come to Carolina immediately after graduating high school. I seriously encourage every incoming freshman to consider applying for this program.
Taking a gap year has given me a community and family all across the globe. I have places to stay in Vietnam, Australia, Cape Town, Germany and England and have work experience that sets me apart. I have learned that my space, family and understanding of the world is far greater than I will ever be able to contextualize. What is so beautiful about that, though, is that there are people here who fully understand that.
If you have questions about the fellowship, gap years or solo travel as a young woman, reach out! You can find my blog from my gap year at gracestroup.wordpress.com to learn more about where I traveled, the work I did and, most importantly, the people I met that gave me some of my favorite memories.