The Benefits of a Gap Year

by Kalli Watson, ’13

For three weeks in the summer of 2012 Shannon Winant, ’13, went on a mission trip to South Africa. It was there that he fell in love with the country and the people he met. Now, Winant has committed to spending his first year after graduation back in South Africa to continue building the powerful relationships he has already started.

He’s far from alone in taking what’s known as a “gap year.” Colleen Kinder, author of Delaying the Real World, writes that choosing adventure after graduation is a great choice for those who don’t know what they want to do. Her advice is to just go: “You’ve been on a straight educational path since you learned to tie your shoes, and now suddenly you’ve got a diploma, enough energy to run the length of the globe, and all the freedom in the world.”

Many Whitworth seniors like Winant are using that freedom as a way of letting God guide their future. Instead of playing it safe, staying close to home, and finding a job to pay off college loans, students are taking the plunge into the unknown. Choosing to follow God’s call and serve where needed is something that Whitworth encourages students to do. And many are responding.

As a college senior you are considered to be as free as you could possibly be.  You mostly likely have no serious relationships, mortgage, or other reasons at this time that should hold you back from conquering life. This is the moment that many taken to use their liberated situation and use a gap year to explore their passions and callings before it is too late. There are significant benefits to taking a gap year and spending your time abroad to learn about yourself and your passions.

Winant believes that God is calling him back to South Africa to continue being a friend and witness to Christ. Through a program called Athletes in Action, he will do athletic outreach with youth and develop deeper relationships with professional and collegiate athletes. Winant says that he is going to continue to follow God’s guidance wherever that may lead him when returning from Africa. The only thing he knows for sure is that he wants to continue spreading the love of God. This approach to the future could take Winant anywhere after Africa.

Kathy Taylor, ’12, is a recent graduate who has gone abroad to teach during her gap year. She is volunteering in a local community outside of Accra, Ghana. Her time is spent working as a special education teacher for a non-profit called City of Refuge Ministries. These children have missed enough schooling that they are far below their grade level, Taylor says. Through these experiences, Taylor says she has learned more about herself by being abroad. At Whitworth, she studied special education and will begin looking for jobs to follow her calling when she returns from Ghana.

Vocation is a constant theme and buzzword on the Whitworth campus, but the focus is usually on figuring out student’s current lives. Taylor is just one Whitworth graduate who has used her first year out of college to take a risk and discover who she is and learn about the world’s needs. These students with a Christian worldview are following God’s call in their lives to go abroad and immerse themselves in communities abroad.

Taylor says her best advice for graduating seniors is to go with your gut. “I spent a long time trying to talk myself out of Ghana, but I knew the whole time I needed to go…I was just scared,” she says. “The best thing you can do is listen to what God is telling you. And if you feel like God is calling you out of your comfort zone, He probably is and that’s okay!”

Other seniors who do not have a Christian worldview also have approached the period after graduation as a time for risk-taking. Blogger Srinivas Rao believes that getting a job right out of college is actually a huge mistake. Doing that, he says,  teaches us not to take risks. According to him, allowing yourself to follow the status quo will cause your work to define you. On his blog he states, “On the flip side, almost every single person I know who took some time off after college, is happier, more successful and achieving peak performance levels.” His view is that the perfect time to take risks is after college. Once you are locked in a career it is harder to break away and explore the dreams you’ve always had. You need to be confident in yourself and take unconventional paths to live the life you’ve dreamed.

Another recent Whitworth grad, Nanda Navis, ’12, encourages seniors to jump into an opportunity when considering what to do after graduation. She says, “At Whitworth we get the feeling that we should take all of our options into account before making a decision. These are prime years to do something. To take a year off is hard. It’s a test but overall you learn and are challenged. It is very healthy to get out and be okay with that.” Navis is currently serving in Cairo, Egypt, through the Mennonite Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program as a communication assistant.

Other graduates, who do not feel called into missionary work, have opted to spend this time seeking different kinds of adventures and quests. The author, Kinder, writes that there is no better time to use your energy and passions to follow your dreams or to make the world a better place. She adds that what they choose to do does not have to be related to any future goals or background experience. On the contrary, having a diverse spread of experiences actually appears more impressive on a resume.

Kinder adds, “Now is the time to do exactly what you want to do and fulfill your wildest dreams.” For recent graduates, in other words, what seems like a gap could become an indispensible building block for the rest of one’s life. That’s what Winant and others like him are open to.