Gap Year: Defining One’s Own

At age 24, I began a gap year tradition that’s lived on through my kids. Some countries—especially those that are isolated, especially small and isolated, such as island nations, island continents—send kids off after schooling to travel for a year before knuckling down to higher education and aiming toward a future career path. That isn’t really a thing in the U.S. No one even wanted me to go to college much less financed a trip abroad. I was lucky to have savings bonds from my grandparents which I’d squirreled away, unlike my siblings. So before I figured out my direction and finished college at UCLA, I took a year to travel in Europe and the Middle East.

My son, after his BA and a couple of years of teaching, spent a summer traveling to all the major cities of Europe.

I sent my daughter to Germany after she finished her BA. She’d dreamed of going for so long, a culture buff since her teens. She’s spent eight months making her way frugally through Germany, France and the UK, sacrificing in some tough Workaways. To me, this is transformative travel, where you put yourself out there to get to know the people and their ways of life. I’m proud of her bravery. She’s spent the past week in Switzerland, a country that is not always depicted as warm or culturally nuanced, yet she’s stumbling upon real treasures: in the city of Basel, like a cult cinema and toy museum, and many whimsical sights.

When I hear parents discussing taking their young kids to Europe, I think in ways I prefer the right of passage way, where you go as a young adult, on your own terms, making your way and having life-changing experiences. Maybe it’s just because my kids and I have done it that way and found it valuable.

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