Jee Lee ’17 reflects on the way relaxation can be more meaningful than a high-intensity year at school.

My gap year started with little fanfare. I asked my parents after the summer of my freshman year, they agreed, and we called my dean the next day. There wasn’t any real eureka moment. I wasn’t struck with the inspiration to write the next big Broadway musical or great American novel. Really, all I wanted was some time off and a little distance from campus.

This longing for rest and solitude fed into how I spent my year away. For one, I told very few people that I was leaving. I deleted all forms of social media and kept in touch with people mainly through text and email. I obviously wanted to know what was going on in my friends’ lives, but I didn’t want the constant bombardment and reminder of school life. It would have driven me crazy and made me anxious that I was missing out on what could be an incredible undergraduate experience.

Instead, I kept my focus and my heart at home in Boston. I rarely made a point of traveling outside of the state, and when I did, it was for short weekend trips to New York. I felt that I had enough to discover and explore in close proximity to my home. After all, I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere; I was near a city with its own unique culture and vibe.

All in all, I think that’s what made my gap year so successful. I allowed myself to have peace of mind. I had been so wound up and worried about the future of my academic career and subsequent profession that I kind of forgot what it was to just be.

No, I didn’t necessarily learn to live in the moment. I just learned to give myself a break. After all, gap years don’t have to become college essay topics. They don’t have to have sweeping climatic moments when you discover the meaning of life, followed by how you alone are going to change the world. Actually, they can be the perfect opportunity to do the opposite: to learn how you can simply exist and enjoy being just any human on earth.

When I think about my gap year, I rarely think about the huge accomplishments I achieved. Yes, I had a pretty nice part-time job and yes, I had an equally great internship, but really, that’s not what made me enjoy my time off.

Instead, when I think about my gap year, I tend to think a lot about getting on the T every morning to commute to work. Superficially, it was everything but fun. Every day, I had to race out of my house to walk the half a mile to the train station, rain or shine, carrying the lunch, books, and myriad coffee cups I needed for the day. However, even now, I can’t help but get slightly nostalgic for the odd stress and triumph I felt when I managed to catch the 8:55 rather than the 9:05 into Downtown Crossing. I think a lot about how ridiculous I must have looked every day, buried under my bag and giant coat, and about how many times I had to apologize to people in suits for stepping on their very expensive shoes.

I feel the same way when I think about how many times I got to wander into my local library or bookstore and browse the shelves for fun. I feel the same way when I remember how I got food poisoning and how my dog sympathy-vomited next to my bed. It’s really just these rare moments that I know no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t document them in a Facebook post or Instagram photo.

What I’m saying is if you are going to take a gap year, don’t think you have to do it for a bold cause. You can give yourself a break and learn to enjoy life outside of this campus without the pressure of having to be a full-blown, tax-paying, mortgage-holding adult. In fact, for me, it was the perfect opportunity to do the opposite.

  • Tanya Malcolm

    This is a beautiful reminder for young adults to take time to be with themselves, and be happy there. I loved when you said “Learn how you can simply exist and enjoy being just any human on earth.” That made me smile. Keep writing!