Lon Watters once famously said, “School is a building which has four walls with tomorrow inside.” I like this quote, but I feel like it’s a bit inaccurate, especially concerning gap years. Most people know someone who took a gap year before coming to college, and this holds true at Carleton. If anything, I feel like taking a gap year before coming to Carleton is a common occurrence. It allows us adventurous, avid Carls to explore the world before becoming pretty isolated for 4 years.
However, there is a new trend that is catching on at Carleton; taking a gap year during college. Before writing this article, I had never heard of this trend. It hadn’t occurred to me that for some students, 4 years of isolation is just too much. That for some, living within four walls is too stifling.
In my quest for answers on this increasing trend, I interviewed Juniors Caroline Anna Lauth (Geology/Archeology) and Mike Habermann (Economics), both of whom plan on taking a gap year.
Why are you thinking of taking a gap year in the middle of college? Are you feeling disillusioned with the college experience or is it something else?
CL: I’m hoping that taking time off will allow me to better utilize my time here when I return. Carleton is an incredible institution with incredible people and resources and I’m very happy here. However, that means it’s easy to become complacent and just be happy with being happy. This fall I realized that I felt sort of lost and unfulfilled; it felt like my time at Carleton was slipping away and I wasn’t making the most of it. I wasn’t giving back in a substantial way. I just wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted or needed to be doing here. I know that I am incredibly privileged to be at a school like Carleton, but that awareness makes it hard for me to feel okay being here without knowing that I’m doing the best possible job I can. I want to be deliberate and intentional about the way I spend the limited amount of time I have here. I think that taking time off will allow me to come back with a clearer sense of purpose and more energy to engage in the things about which I’m passionate.
MH: This coming year I plan to take a gap year in pursuit of my twin passions: economic development and collaborating with Somali communities. I took my first economics class sophomore winter and became immediately excited about majoring in the field. Professors Jenny Bourne and Martha Paas inspired me to jump on the econ train, and ever since I’ve been plugging in economics with my myriad of other outlets. The strongest of those connections has emerged from the incredible introductions I’ve had to the Somalis of Minnesota. Over the past two years I have tutored Somali youth in Faribault and last year commenced learning Somali.
Where are you thinking of taking your gap year? What do you plan on doing?
CL: I’m actually studying abroad next fall, so the gap “year” would just be winter and spring terms. I’m planning on spending the winter doing geology research and the spring working on an organic farm. I’m hoping that this will allow me to learn a lot about both fields and see if I actually like the work, not just the idea of it. I’ve done geology research and volunteered on organic farms for short time periods before, but I want to have a more intensive experience where I can get a better feel for what a career in that field would be like. I think it will be an opportunity to learn and grow and get hands-on experience in ways that I can’t at Carleton.
MH: I will return to Carleton in the fall and then begin my gap year in earnest after fall term finishes. The past three summers I led international wilderness trips for youth, so the principle reason I am taking this time away from Carleton is to fully immerse myself in opportunities to unite economics and the Somali community. I plan to continue working with organizations in the Twin Cities during that time, furthering my fluency with Somali, and reflecting about what the most fulfilling post-graduation work/education would be for me to continue such work.
How do you feel this gap year will help/shape your future goals?
Caroline: I work for the Student Activities Office, and my boss there has been a great mentor to me. He told me once that in order to be the best candidate you can be for a job, you have to be able to sell yourself and have a story, something that sets you apart. It was in that conversation that I told him I won’t be coming back next year, and he was incredibly supportive. He said that having this experience would become part of my “story.” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think it’s very true. This is an opportunity for me to learn and explore the things I’m passionate about, and in doing so become a more interesting and experienced candidate for professional or educational opportunities I pursue in the future.
Mike: From my gap year before Carleton, I know that time pursuing other adventures will free me to further solidify my passions. When you talk to me after those two terms, I will be more focused, engaged, and ready to make the fullest of my remaining time at Carleton in ways I can only do with the experience and self-awareness of a gap year. I love Carleton and will miss it for the two terms I’m gone, but after months of thinking about it and talking with friends and advisors, I am sure that this adventure will help me make the most of my time at Carleton, and I think Carleton will be the better for it, too.