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My Gap Year: The corner of passion and discovery

Benefits of a gap year with City Year

Red’s—it was a modest shop, a so-called “corner store” near the school in which I served. The term corner store itself is self-explanatory, a store on the corner. Nonetheless, throughout eighteen years of life in rural Missouri, I had never encountered one.

Red’s was stocked with a few expected items (like chips and candy), but also home to a few fortuitous finds (like water ice and pizza pretzels). Life in the city was full of adventurous discoveries, as was my gap year between high school and college. I was grateful to have time and energy to contribute to a cause greater than self, but even more excited by all there was to learn. The corps was imperative to me as a recent high school graduate. Inversely, I would come to find that recent high school graduates were imperative to the corps.

Recent high school graduates, and the perspective we bring to service, are invaluable. The college application was lengthy and arduous, but fruitful, nonetheless. Speaking to my students about the ambition I have to attend college, as well as the challenges I have faced in the conquest to do so, was one of the most rewarding ways to leverage my perspective as a recent high school graduate. In some ways, I could relate to my students as a first-generation and Pell-eligible student myself. In other ways, I was humbled by the tenacity of my students: They never let the challenges of an underfunded, underresourced urban Philadelphia education stand in their way. My recent knowledge of high school and preparing for life afterward allowed me to be a resource to students that they may not have always had at home. Here’s what I learned during my year in service with City Year Philadelphia:

Practical skills

I could have spent my freshman year of college figuring out how to live on my own, how to budget, and how to maintain intrinsic motivation while simultaneously balancing a rigorous course load. Instead, I was able to acquire these practical skills—paired with professional development (resume assistance, interview preparation, etc.) and immeasurable support—in order to better prepare myself for some of the difficulties of freshman year. Because of City Year, I am more responsible and easily able to adapt to new people, challenges and tasks.

Action-oriented leadership

I chose my gap year with purpose, guided by the belief that in order to lead, I must first learn to serve. I sought to better prepare myself to lead and serve on my future college’s campus. City Year taught me to do this by requiring an “action step” with every meeting, project planning session, and goal. Action steps help refine the follow-through aspect of leadership that I was lacking in high school. I had the heart and mindset to lead; City Year gave me tools to lead effectively.

Greater sense of self

I came into my year of service with a plan to stay for the year, proceed to obtain an undergraduate degree in Political Science/International Relations, attend law school, and then pursue a career as an advocate of some type, either domestically or abroad. So far, those goals have not changed (though plans of other AmeriCorps members are often altered because of their experience). What has changed for me, however, is the expanding sense of self and confidence I have secured by serving with City Year. I knew what I wanted to do. Now I am more aware of who I am.

Renewed passion for learning

Being on the other side of the classroom—planning, tutoring and mentoring—allowed to me to gain a greater understanding of how I learn, and a renewed love for doing so. Because of this, I will enter college with a deeper passion for direct service and learning both inside of the classroom and out.

Much like Red’s, City Year was my corner store—stocked with a bit of the expected (like practicality and service) and a plethora of sweet surprises (like leadership development, and a newfound sense of self). My gap year was the intersection, the corner, of passion and discovery. With City Year, this transformative adventure is available to you, too—right around the corner.

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