One Year Later: Class of 2019 Gap Year Reflections: From France to Fiji: Finding Yourself Outside of the Lawrenceville Bubble

When I told people I was taking a gap year, they almost always responded, "We didn't have that when I was in college," which not-so-politely implied, "When I was your age, I was not lazy like you."

When I told people I was taking a gap year, they almost always responded, "We didn't have that when I was in college," which not-so-politely implied, "When I was your age, I was not lazy like you." For nearly my whole life, I have worked towards long-term goals, often at the expense of short-term happiness; in my gap year, however, I could simply enjoy the moment, knowing the rest of my academic career was waiting for me. This certainty carries privilege, but nobody's life should be linear. Life's detours are often its greatest moments, so as for why I took a gap year, there was only one question lingering in my mind at the time: Why not?

In the fall, I spent free time wandering the streets of Paris, visiting museums and eating crêpes at every overpriced street stand I could find. I wanted to absorb as much as I could in two short months. In fact, I remember my first and last French conversations quite clearly. My first day there, I was in a boutique and wanted to try on a dress. I not-so-subtly used Word Reference to formulate my meticulously-crafted question until I mustered the courage to ask it. The store attendant responded, "What size?" and in that moment, years of grammar and vocabulary evaded me, proving that even Honors French would not fully prepare me for real-life interactions. Conversely, my last interaction was an argument with an airport attendant about checking my baggage. Although less glamorous than dress-shopping, my ability to not just make small talk in French, but argue, hopefully speaks to my improvement.

On one of my last days in Paris, I decided to check some final items off my bucket list. I went to Les Deux Magots, a brasserie once frequented by literary greats such as Ernest Hemingway. Though the waiters' formal attire suggested pretentiousness, their hospitality proved them otherwise. Afterwards, I browsed book stands lining the Seine river, as I headed to the department store Le Bon Marché to view the newly-displayed Christmas decorations. Finally, I finished my day with dinner at Chez Françis. Though it was mid-November, everyone ate outside. Crazy? Probably, but the restaurant's view of the Eiffel Tower gave me a front row seat to see the tower sparkle every hour. Despite spending the day alone, thanks to Lawrenceville, my independence was invigorating, enabling me to appreciate the beauty of another culture and to truly immerse myself in the "French way of living."

While such days were typical during my time in France, when I set off to Fiji in winter for a volunteer project, I often woke up to spiders bigger than my palm and cold bucket showers-both reasons for my initial culture shock. I adjusted rather quickly, but whether it was witnessing an exorcism or narrowly escaping a collapsed cave, I always had action-packed days. However, evenings with my host family offered balance. Despite the language barrier, they treated me like their own. I even showed them a picture of Carter House at House Olympics with everyone wearing blue tutus and face paint, so I guess you could say Carter is Fiji's favorite House!

While no single Lawrenceville class prepared me for this experience, unlike most, I knew what it was like to leave home, to meet new friends, and to feel overwhelmed with unfamiliarity. I embraced discomfort and faced such moments with greater ease than others, even compared to myself just four years ago.

A notable take away from my gap year was how to manage stress. After four years of having a rigorous schedule, I believed the absence of an academic environment would alleviate my stress, but that couldn't have been farther from the truth. From learning how to be comfortable with spontaneity, choosing to relax when faced with difficult decisions, and knowing the significance of my actions, the apprehensions that I experienced were different from the ones I faced as a high schooler. Regardless of finals or college applications, worries always manage to creep into our lives. What matters is how we respond. Am I the best at it? No, but I am trying.

Likewise, I learned the value in relinquishing control. In the past, I often took charge of situations because I like knowing matters are under my jurisdiction. However, taking the back seat proved to be necessary in giving my mind a break, so when a friend proposed taking a weekend trip, I spontaneously said, "Yes!" She organized everything, and I just went along for the ride. While blindly accepting made me nervous at first, I soon realized that such worries were unwarranted. Although I'm still learning the concept of "relaxing," I can more comfortably accept that whatever happens, happens.

From interning at a French company to losing contact with the outside world, this year pushed me out of my comfort zone in more ways that I could've imagined, prompting me to document my experiences on my travel blog Salut Madeleine. Past experiences never completely prepare us for future ones, but four years at Lawrenceville comes remarkably close. Although a bubble in many ways, the School pushes us past our limits and teaches us to adapt-a crucial skill to have in a constantly changing world.

Though I did not expect life-changing lessons or experiences, they came naturally, rendering my gap year a decision I would make again in a heartbeat. Even if you are unable to take one yourself, life is full of opportunities to explore your passions and find excitement. Ignore anything holding you back, embrace change, and take a leap. After all, there's only one question worth asking yourself: Why not?


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