1. Flexibility is a good thing.
Take this from someone who’s gap year was interrupted by a worldwide pandemic. I don’t mean this haughtily or selfishly, however. The occurrences I have been through for the past 127 days were a harsh, yet necessary, reminder that things will seldom go as planned. Thankfully, I have not been unfortunate to experience any significant losses to the pandemic. Seeing that has made me grateful for what I have, especially my current situation. Though I did not get to volunteer in Portugal and see Europe, I had more time instead to bond with my relatives in Costa Rica, especially with my ninety-two-year-old grandmother. Once I begin studying in August, only God knows when I will be able to her again, and only He knows how much time she has left. For this reason, if you’re a Gap Year Fellow, keep in mind that this journey will force you, if you’re not already, to be more adaptable. Moreover, if you’re reading this as a Gap Year Fellow for the years 2020–2021, acknowledge that your gap year experience will be amid a pandemic, and because of this, it will be nothing like ones experienced before. Like all of us, you’re being flung into an unexpected time. However, you will have the opportunity to plan over it all and make the most of what you can nonetheless; therefore, take advantage of the heads-up and equip yourself with the right attitude and any tools or resources your advisors give you. Be safe.
2. Don’t have too high expectations.
This ties to my first point. However, not having high expectations doesn’t mean lowering your standards. Approach every situation, encounter, or interaction with a positive mindset. Don’t mistake positive for unrealistic, though. Positivity, to me, means playing the cards you are dealt with as best possible. Always think, “how can I get the most of this conversation/experience.”
3. Budgeting is uber-important.
For me, what isn’t measured isn’t managed. Though I find comfort in budgeting and knowing that I have more than enough resources for my necessary expenses, I see this part of the process can be stressful or even confusing for some (as it should be for anyone just getting started). Don’t be disheartened, however! Start by thinking about what you want from this gap year.
For those reading this during the pandemic, I think I can bet on why you’re taking this gap year now. It’s to help those affected by this pandemic, like creating masks, or helping fund the efforts of an organization you believe in, help society move on smoothly by becoming an essential worker, like a supermarket worker, or delivery person, and explore your passions, interests or hobbies. This all in hopes that you can get closer to knowing what you want to do in life. These are all noteworthy and significant goals that will help you grow as an individual, and I commend your bravery for exploring questions in a time where the answers will be harder to find.
Once you have thought with deliberation about what you will be doing, estimate how much you will need. You can do this with the help of your advisor, who will most likely provide you with a budget sheet and help you fill in any gaps on potential expenses you will have. It should at least be as much as FSU is giving you to get started. If it’s less, speak to your advisor to sort this out. If it’s more, consider getting a job for a few months to save up (this is what I did), or ask for help from your advisor in building a productive GoFundMe page.
4. Be present/ live the moment.
Before my gap year, I was a stressed-out yet ambitious high school student. Months later, I’m still that aspiring student, but with more rounded edges. I’m no longer a perfectionist nor someone who worries as incessantly as I used to about my future. I still over-rationalize my feelings, but I think even that irksome habit of mine has become more subdued.
Taking life at a completely different pace in Costa Rica felt like I had gotten off a long, dizzying rollercoaster ride, and finally had a chance to experience a fanciful merry-go-round I thought was not suited for me. Initially, I believed the payoff would be meager; however, I got something invaluable: I got to see my surroundings with clarity for the first time in years. My days at work at the Jaguar Rescue Center were long and onerous, but extremely satisfying. When I would take the slightly longer route back home through the clear-watered beach of Cocles, most of the time, I would sit on a familiar fallen palm tree and reflect on how much of a whirlwind my life was until then and how far I’ve come. On that beach, time stopped, my head cleared, and the moment of lucidity rushed in like hungry waves. I have a long path ahead of me, but spending most of it worrying about things I have no control over and seemingly rushing through life is not the way I want to hike it. That lone realization was all it took to make something magnificent bloom in me. I suddenly had a revival of will to see more things, get out of my comfort zone, and experience life more fully and presently.
Not long after that second week, I made meaningful friendships that will last me a lifetime and made innumerable memories that I will hold dear to my heart forever.