How Taking a Gap Year Can Shape Your Life
If your teenager is talking about taking a year away from the classroom between high school and college, you may have Malia Obama to thank for that. But if they’re not yet talking about whether to follow her lead, they should be.
Taking time off between high school and college or sometime during the undergraduate years, as Ms. Obama is doing before she attends Harvard, has plenty of appeal for high school graduates who don’t know what they want out of college or seek to work, travel or volunteer on the sort of schedule that an academic calendar does not allow.
Parents, however, often worry themselves sick over such talk. While no one wants to drop a six-figure sum on a teenager who doesn’t want to be in school, there are often nagging doubts over whether students who stop for a bit will ultimately get back on track.
Twenty-five years ago, my friend Colin Hall and I tried to dispel those concerns by finding and interviewing as many students who took gap years as we could. We profiled 33 of them in a book called “Taking Time Off,” which was published 20 years ago.
在25年前，我和朋友科林·霍尔(Colin Hall)想尽可能地找寻并采访一些有过间隔年(gap year)经历的学生，从而打消这些顾虑。我们选了其中33人做了深度报道，收入一本名叫《休息一下》(Taking Time Off)的书，在20年前出版。
This summer, after news of Ms. Obama’s choice, I tracked down everyone from the book to see what had become of them. Was their gap year ultimately incidental to their lives, or did it help them grow into the person they were meant to become? And for those who now had children, how would they react if their offspring wanted to take a gap year?
Families seeking data on gap years won’t find much. Part of the problem is that federal data on college delay and completion don’t measure all the reasons people started college late. While some people make a deliberate choice to delay college to serve in the military or work or travel, others meander for a few years before deciding to try college after all.
A number of researchers have shown a connection between a deliberate choice to take some time off and getting better grades upon return to the classroom. Devin G. Pope, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, saw the link among people who had served at a Mormon mission. Bob Clagett, the former dean of admissions at Middlebury College, saw similar results when he helped inspire number-crunching among students there and at the University of North Carolina.
很多研究者发现，故意选择休学一段时间与回到学校后取得更好成绩之间存在联系。芝加哥大学布斯商学院(University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business)的行为学教授德温·G·波普(Devin G. Pope)在参与了摩门教传道活动的人中也发现了这种联系。米德尔伯里学院(Middlebury College)的前招生部主任鲍勃·克拉格特(Bob Clagett)在帮助分析该校和北卡罗来纳大学(University of North Carolina)的学生数据时也发现了类似的结果。
Once college is over, however, we enter the realm of anecdotal evidence when it comes to first jobs. Parents worry that if their children take a gap year, they will appear wayward to employers, which may have more to do with the term than how that year was spent. “It suggests a hole,” said Abigail Falik, founder of Global Citizen Year, which has 115 people working in four countries. She prefers the term bridge year, with its implication of a deliberate connection between one stage of life and the next.
不过，一旦大学结束，刚开始工作，就进入经验证据的领域。父母们担心，如果孩子经历间隔年，雇主们会觉得他们太任性——这可能更多地是因为这个说法，而非这一年是如何度过的。“它意味着有个空洞，”全球公民年(Global Citizen Year)的创始人阿比盖尔·法利克(Abigail Falik)说。目前该项目有115人在4个国家工作。她更喜欢过渡年(bridge year)这个说法，它表明，这是故意把人生的一个阶段和下一个阶段联系起来。
In fact, logic would suggest that many people who take a gap year get better jobs after college than people who don’t. If you were hiring entry-level employees, wouldn’t you rather employ the risk-taking 23-year-olds who found their way in the world for a while than the 22-year-olds who have not done much besides going to school?
There is no way to know for sure except by asking some of the people who have had the experience. Susie Steele took time off from the University of Vermont to teach disabled people to ski and eventually landed a plum full-time job at the Keystone Science School in Keystone, Colo. Now a middle-school biology teacher in Louisville, Colo., Ms. Steele, 44, figures her odds would have been quite long without the gap year.
要想了解确切情况，最好的办法是询问有过这种经历的人。苏茜·斯蒂尔(Susie Steele)从佛蒙特大学(University of Vermont)休学了一段时间，教残疾人滑雪，后来在科罗拉多州基斯通的基斯通科学学校(Keystone Science School)获得了一份待遇很好的全职工作。44岁的斯蒂尔现在是科罗拉多州路易斯维尔的一名中学生物教师。她说，如果没有那个间隔年，她的成功之路会曲折很多。
Akiima Price took a break from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to work with the Student Conservation Association in Nevada. The organization eventually hired her full time, and she has forged a career in and around environmental education and community work.
阿奇玛·普赖斯(Akiima Price)从马里兰大学东海岸分校(University of Maryland Eastern Shore)休学，去内华达州的学生环境保护协会(Student Conservation Association)工作了一段时间。该协会最终聘用她为全职员工，后来她在环境教育和社区工作方面开创了一番事业。
“Now, looking back on my résumé, all of the dots ended up connecting,” said Ms. Price, 44, who lives in Washington. “I would tell younger Akiima to trust the process.”
Parents would be wise to adopt that mantra, too, and not just because tens of thousands of tuition dollars may go to waste if a college student has a burning desire to be elsewhere. Even if a gap year does not lead to a job offer and an obvious career track, it can light a spark that ends up burning in a different way many years later.
Cory Mason spent his gap year as a project manager for Habitat for Humanity in Savannah, Ga. Today, he’s a Wisconsin state representative who calls on his experience quite often, even if he doesn’t pick up a hammer much these days. “It wasn’t just about housing but more about poverty and how hard it is for working people who still make poverty wages to move into the middle class,” he said. “It gave me as much of a lesson on that as it did on how to frame a house or put shingles on a roof.”
科里·梅森(Cory Mason)在间隔年担任乔治亚州萨凡纳市仁人家园(Habitat for Humanity)的项目经理。而今他是威斯康星州众议员，他经常回忆起自己的那段经历——尽管现在他很少拿起锤子干活。“它不只是关于住房，更多的是关于贫穷以及依然只能挣到微薄薪水的工薪阶级想要成为中产阶级是多么困难，”他说，“它在这方面给我上了一课，而不仅是教我如何搭建房子的框架，如何把木瓦放到屋顶上。”
Mr. Mason earned room, board and a tiny stipend during his gap year. And plenty of revenue-neutral or moneymaking gap year experiences are available, despite the phenomenon’s reputation as a sort of rich kid’s layabout. Still, some educators question whether there isn’t some class privilege at work here.
Chad Hammett, who took three semesters off from the University of Texas, now teaches English at Texas State University. He figures that maybe a quarter of the students he encounters would have been better served by a gap year, but he worries about the momentum of the students he sees who are the first in their families to go to college. “This may be their one chance, and any kind of delay would be admitting that they’re not ready and don’t belong,” he said.
查德·哈米特(Chad Hammett)曾从德克萨斯大学(University of Texas)休学三个学期。如今他在德克萨斯州立大学(Texas State University)教英语。他说自己遇见的学生中约有四分之一更适合去体验间隔年，不过他担心那些是家中首个大学生的学生对此没有太大动力。“这可能是他们上大学的唯一机会，任何拖延都会被认为是承认自己还没准备好，或不适合上大学，”他说。
For others, however, a year in between was just the thing they needed. Celia Quezada was a first-generation college student and spent a year in Belgium in a Rotary program before beginning her freshman year at Williams College. “Had I not done the exchange program, I would have dropped out just from the culture shock,” she said.
不过，对其他人来说，间隔年正是他们所需要的。塞莉娅·克萨达(Celia Quezada)是家中的第一代大学生，在去威廉斯学院(Williams College)上大一之前，她参加扶轮社(Rotary)的一个项目，在比利时待了一年。“如果没有参加那个交换项目，我可能因为文化冲击就退学了，”她说。
Ms. Quezada, 44, lives in Greenfield, Calif., and is now a first-grade teacher. Her students are too young for any advice from her about possible college paths.
But even the people who took the biggest risks during their gap year wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the experience to their own children.
Eric Van Dusen traveled over land from Argentina to California during his time off, while his wife, Kara Nelson, taught in a migrant camp in Zimbabwe. They have two children, ages 8 and 12, who will be making their own educational choices soon, or will try to convince their parents that an alternative path is a swell idea. “The idea of knowing that my kids would be out there being autonomous and feeling self-directed and empowered by making decisions themselves makes me really happy,” Ms. Nelson said.
埃里克·范杜森(Eric Van Dusen)在自己的间隔年从阿根廷穿越大陆来到加利福尼亚州，而他的妻子卡拉·纳尔逊(Kara Nelson)则在津巴布韦的一个难民营教书。他们有两个孩子，分别是8岁和12岁，他们将很快做出自己的教育选择或努力说服父母其他道路也很好。“想到我的孩子们将独立自主，进行自我指导，有能力自己做决定，我感到非常高兴，”纳尔逊说。
Any risk may well be part of the point. Ted Conover took plenty of risks when he rode freight trains with hobos during his time off from Amherst College, and eventually wrote about the experience in his book, “Rolling Nowhere.” “You get to define the terms of the risk,” he said. “Could I hop a train? Handle police? Defend myself? Deal with a blizzard in October or a rainstorm while out in the open? All kinds of things had never been asked of me, and I thought that the time was right to ask myself, to test myself.”
任何冒险都可能有它的意义。特德·康诺弗(Ted Conover)从安默斯特学院(Amherst College)休学期间与流浪汉一起搭乘货运列车，冒了很多险，最后他把那些经历写进了自己的书《漫无目的地前进》(Rolling Nowhere)中。“你要自己确定冒险的含义，”他说，“我能扒火车吗？我能应付警察吗？我能保护自己吗？我能在户外应对10月的暴风雪或暴风雨吗？之前我从没想过这些事，当时我觉得是时候该问问自己、考验自己了。”
But even if you or your children have no stomach for riding the rails or hitchhiking in Central America, allowing for the possibility of something outside the norm just seems like good parenting. Tracy Johnston Zager took time off to work on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992, later studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and is the author of a coming book called “Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had.”
但是，即使你或你的孩子没兴趣在中美洲扒火车或搭便车，但是允许常规之外的事情发生似乎是良好的养育方法。1992年，特蕾西·约翰斯顿·扎格(Tracy Johnston Zager)休学去为比尔·克林顿(Bill Clinton)的总统竞选团队工作，后来以罗德学者(Rhodes Scholar)的身份在牛津大学(Oxford)学习，她即将出版一本书，名叫《成为你自己理想中的数学老师》(Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had)。
Recently, however, she found herself in a teaching moment in her own home in Portland, Me. Her two young daughters found her examining artifacts from her days of political adventuring. “They didn’t know about any of it,” she said. “They looked at me in a picture with the president and said, ‘Who’s that?’ Maybe it’s time they know this story.”