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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Fall into the gap (year)

    It’s now the fourth week of school. Freshmen have figured out where buildings are on campus, how to order Papa John’s with their CatCards, which lectures they can skip and how to bum a ride to the grocery store. ÿ

    Even though they are finding their way here at the university and most of them will make it to the finish line in four or five years, should some of them really be here just yet?

    A number of freshmen aren’t even 18 yet, many haven’t had the experience of a job or internship and some 1,500 to 1,600 of them are currently undeclared, according to the UA’s University College. ÿ

    It is not to say that all 17-year-olds are immature or that all high school students should be required to work or have an internship before coming to college, or that incoming students should immediately be ready to commit to one major.

    But freshmen, wouldn’t it have been nice to stop and take some time to do those things, get a few experiences under your belt and grow up a little before paying for units and investing time in a major that may or may not end up being right for you?ÿ

    Every year, students in England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand do just this by taking a “”gap year.”” The gap year, as the name implies, is a year off from formal education used by students to pursue travel, volunteer work or an internship. This year affords students the opportunity to gain experiences they probably wouldn’t otherwise have at a university, and to find out more about themselves and what they want.ÿ ÿ

    Most often, students go abroad to travel and volunteer in other countries. It’s the perfect opportunity to give back or gain new perspective on the global community while gaining a sense of self and reveling in independence. ÿ

    UA nutritional sciences senior Mandy Murphy spent a year between high school and college living in northern Argentina with a host family of eight. Murphy said her gap year allowed her to refresh before college, to grow as a person and to learn and love a new culture and language. In May, Murphy won’t just head into life after undergrad with her degree, but with a family she cares about in another country, the ability to tango and memories of dancing until sunrise. ÿ

    Not everyone has to take an adventurous trip – an internship in an area that will help a person decide if a major he or she is considering pursuing is the right one could be an equally invaluable experience. ÿ

    Taking it a step further, pursuing this same kind of internship with the same goals but in another country would present students with the opportunity to gain the global edge of acquiring a language and learning the business culture of their host country. ÿ

    Currently, students who take a gap year are the exception rather than the norm in the U.S. Beyond the fact that this simply isn’t a social norm here, many universities don’t make the possibility of taking a gap year any easier for students. ÿ

    However, gap years do have the support of many university officials, including Sylvia Mioduski, director of the University College, who noted, “”Depending on the student and what they do with their time, the gap year can be a time of growth and maturity, and universities should be flexible in terms of acceptance and scholarship deferment to allow students time to pursue a gap year.”” ÿ

    Moiduski raised a valid point: Not everyone will take the opportunity of a gap year seriously – mastering “”Madden”” or “”Halo”” is hardly something to put on your resume, no matter how much dedication, work and skill it may have taken. But for the benefit of those who would truly get something from such an experience, colleges should be more flexible and possibly offer credit to students who volunteer or complete an internship during their gap year. ÿ

    For those of us here on campus reading this column and thinking, “”shoulda, coulda, woulda,”” we are not lost causes. There are opportunities everywhere. Study abroad for a year or a semester, hit up Students for International Change for the summer, take the post-grad gap year and work in a hospital in Nazareth or buy a one-way ticket to Africa and work with development programs, choices just a few of my friends and acquaintances have made in the past year. ÿ

    Maybe some of the experiences won’t be directly applicable to your job as a future corporate lawyer, but you will have gained greater perspective about the world and, most importantly, yourself.

    Vanessa Valenzuela is a junior majoring in international studies and economics. She can be reached at

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