The following post was written by Bridge Year Fellow Araseli Valverde.

Why are you taking a gap year?

To me, the answer is as simple as taking in a deep breath. I am taking a gap year because I need to know what true freedom means, and what it actually feels like.

People always say that once you graduate from high school the world will be at your fingertips ready for you. However, I’ve always felt that society pressures and practically requires students to pursue higher education. Thus, you spend your high school years stressing about advanced classes, volunteer hours, clubs, college applications, and scholarships, etc. Then, once you’re finally in college you continue to stress about the transition of moving, the rigorous courses, internships, fellowships, awards, more clubs, programs, events, jobs, textbooks, apartments, dorms, and much more. Once again, you wait for graduation in hopes that the stress will end, because then there will be a sea of possibilities. However, society is now pressuring students to continue with higher education and pursue a graduate program, because without that program, again, we are doomed to drown in this never-ending streak of competition.

The problem is, we are being taught to work our whole lives, so that we can work for the rest of our lives (Bee Movie). Quite frankly, I’m tired of constantly feeling stressed about my next exam, meeting, or internship application! On top of that, as a rising junior, people are constantly asking me what I’m going to do after I graduate, and what job I want. I’m tired of feeling inadequate for not having a five-year plan!

It doesn’t make me feel like a better person to map out my whole life. I can’t go to another college session where I am taught to schedule every minute of every day with time sheets. I don’t want to continue maintaining a planner that lists when I wake up, eat, go to class, and take breaks. I can’t continue to place “taking care of myself” as the last item on my to-do list, because sometimes I don’t get a chance to check that off. This does not make me selfish. I am not self-absorbed. I’m simply trying to self-preserve.

What I want is to strive for happiness, and happiness is ever-changing. I want to feel afraid and anxious so that I can grow and learn. I want to quiver with excitement because comfort is boring, and I don’t care to be bored. I want to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I want to have the world at my hands, I want a sea of possibilities, and I want the sky to finally be limitless.

Because of my gap year, I finally had the world at my hands when I asked myself, “Where do you want to go first?” I finally created a sea of possibilities when I chose Italy, and I finally had a taste of the limitless sky when I bought my plane ticket.

Of course, I’m also learning that with every decision, doubt soon follows. I’m constantly wondering if Italy was the right decision because I no longer have someone or something making the decisions for me. Some days I wake up feeling excited and ready to take on Italy. Other days I ask myself why I’m going to Italy? Wouldn’t it be more exciting if I went to a country I have never studied before, and know nothing about? At times, I feel I made the wrong decision, and that I should take a chance on a country I’ve never even thought about. I feel like I should travel to the unknown, and actually dive into a world where I don’t even know the language. But I think that’s one thing that planning this trip has taught me: There is no such thing as the “wrong decision.” There is only my decision, and my decision is to go to Italy. And the best part is, I can always make a decision to go elsewhere if I want.

Italy is not the final destination. Maybe a final destination doesn’t even exist. I mean who says it has to? My decision to go to Italy first is not about fulfilling any requirement. There is no necessity to “try something new” or to go to a destination I have nothing in common with. Decisions don’t always have to have logic. I don’t even have any logical reasoning for going to Italy. If someone asked me, “Why Italy” I think my only response would be “why not?” That’s all I really need.

Why not? Why not take a gap year? Why not go to Italy? There are so many choices in the world that there is no right choice, just like there is no wrong choice. There is only my choice, and I choose Italy because I have the freedom to do so. I am taking a gap year because I choose to take my life into my own hands. To me, that’s pure and utter freedom.