Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessie Hunter, who took two Gap Years between high school and college. Jessie's experiences prove that Gap Years don't have to take place overseas to be a tremendous catalyst for personal growth and discovery. Read on!
J: Why did you decide to take a Gap Year?
JH: My Gap Year came about without much intention. In the first couple of weeks of what was supposed to be my senior year of high school it was brought to my attention that I only had one credit left to graduate, and I could do it online. So while I thought I had another year to apply to colleges and get ready to leave the nest, turns out I was free even sooner.
JH: My Gap Year began about two months after I turned 17. I was a baby, but it was time to leave the nest. I had always been unhappy in the town I lived in (a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Florida), so I went on an impromptu four-day vacation to Austin, Texas. I had always heard it was an amazing city, and I fell in love with it the moment I arrived. After my four days in Texas I got back to Florida, packed up my car, and drove back. I have now been in Austin for over eight years. When I arrived I had no friends and no money so I just jumped in and got myself the only jobs I could think of. I started off working as a hostess in a chain restaurant, and eventually got a job working retail in one of Austin’s hipper shops. Other than working I spent most of my two Gap Years exploring and playing. Because I was working a menial job and living technically below the poverty line I didn’t have many opportunities to travel, but I found myself saying yes as often as I could to anything that sounded remotely interesting. From SXSW shows, late night parties at train stations and abandoned shopping malls, to taking a (temporary) promotion with my retail job to work (briefly) in their Brooklyn store.
J: Did you always have a set end date in mind?
JH: I always knew I would go back to school at some point, but for the first year or so I didn’t know exactly when. I wanted to go to college, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to study and as a result I didn’t want to waste money on classes I might not need after all. It was about a year and a half into the Gap Year when I stumbled upon a roommate’s book on neuroscience and I totally fell in love with the subject. At that point I decided to go ahead and head back to school to begin studying biology and/or medicine within the year.
J: What is the most surprising or out-of-the-ordinary thing you did during your Gap Year?
JH: I spent a lot of time doing as many small adventures as I could over those two years, so it’d be difficult to name one specific instance. Exceptionally memorable moments include being snuck in to a fancy private concert during SXSW (I was 17 years old, so this was a very big deal to me), evenings spent on roofs of downtown buildings, swimming in hidden creeks at 3 am, and impromptu flights to DC to see my favorite band’s last-ever concert.
J: Did you make any valuable personal connections (friendships, professional contacts, etc.) during your Gap Year? Do you still keep in touch?
JH: The personal connections I made in those two years were kind of a jumping off point for my life here in Austin. When I arrived here I knew literally no one, and it was through that first group that I made new connections, one by one. There aren’t many people from those two years that I still interact with regularly. I was then a barely employed teenager, while I am now I medical school dropout at the beginning of my professional career specializing in healthcare technology. That said, I touch base with those folks from time to time and when I do it’s always a pleasure.
JH: I would say the most important thing I learned during my Gap Year was how to take risks. Knowing no one and having nothing to lose was a tremendous catalyst for adventures. It also gave me an opportunity to see what life would likely be like if I never went down the college route, both good and bad. It was a tremendous motivator.
J: Be honest – do you have any regrets about taking a Gap Year?
JH: I can’t say that I have any regrets about my Gap Years. I mean, it was my (rather adventurous) life from the ages of 17 to 19, so it’s largely behavior I wouldn’t repeat now that I’m 25, but there are no regrets.
J: What did you do after your Gap Year?
JH: After my Gap Years I transitioned into community college. I attended part time while working part time, and after a couple of years there I transferred to the University of Texas, where I began work in a neuropharmacology lab and wrapped up my B.A. in Biology.
J: What’s your best advice to someone thinking about, or planning to take, a Gap Year?
JH: I would strongly encourage anyone who wants to do it to just go for it. There’s a big misconception out there that you have to have money and spend months backpacking southeast Asia or doing something spectacularly exotic, but that’s just not true. I can’t explain how much I learned and grew from those two years, just working enough to get by and have some Texas-based adventures.
J: If you could take another Gap Year, what would you do?
JH: Funny enough, I very much wish I had taken another year after I finished my undergraduate degree. Instead I jumped straight in to medical school, which it turns out wasn’t the right fit for me. After leaving med school I wound up taking an accidental 'Gap Six Months' while searching for a job here in Austin. It’s been doable only because of the support of my spectacular boyfriend, so all my credit goes to him.
images provided courtesy of Jessie.
Thank you so much to Jessie for sharing her experiences. I think hopping in a car and moving to a city where you know no one is so brave (and so cool!)
I also think Jessie has a great point about not having to travel far or spend lots of money during your Gap Year. I'm a firm believer in travelling at home - squeezing every little drop of adventure and discovery out of the city and country you live in.
Don't have any weekend plans? I dare you to give it a try.
Remember to enter to win a round-the-world Gap Year courtesy of Havana Club.
Deadline is March 1!