The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Rose Houck.

It has been nearly a year since I decided I was going to take a gap year. In this time, my decision has raised many brows as people question what real value I could gain from a year-long academic hiatus. Two years ago I would have never even considered the idea. Back then I had been laser-focused on excelling at everything. I don’t know where it was coming from, but I possessed this (admittedly somewhat obnoxious) natural drive to work really hard because I had convinced myself that if I kept this up then I would be successful one day.

When I moved to Durham my junior year of high school to attend the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM) I realized my perception of hard work and success was a bit distorted. I hadn’t defined what success meant for me, and as my academic workload tripled. The “just get the work done no matter what” method wasn’t holding up and over time my natural motivation began to fade. I was burnt out. More importantly, I was angry with myself because I didn’t know why I was burning myself out. I was frustrated with my priorities and how I was setting my life up. Every day of the last two years I walked around in a sleep-deprived, undernourished, and agitated haze. I constantly felt like I had traded in my personhood to become a fact memorizing, essay writing robot. As I began the arduous task of applying for college, my frustrations were magnified by knowing I was setting myself up for at least 4 more years on this toxic course. It took a lot for me to finally be honest with myself and say “Rose, you can’t do this.” I am overwhelmed, undermotivated, and I clearly haven’t mastered the skill of balance. Throwing myself into college in this state wouldn’t benefit anyone. When I heard about UNC’s GGY opportunity it honestly felt like a sign from God because it meant I would get to design my own gap year and then attend my dream college.

When planning my gap year, the immensity of my options was somewhat overwhelming. I considered how I have always been happiest when hiking a new mountain, reading a great book, learning a new subject, enjoying a new hobby, eating new foods, and anything else surrounding this motif of “trying something new.” So why not try something new like moving to Hawaii? I couldn’t think of a better place to reconnect with myself, try new things, and learn how to balance. In Hawaii, I’m going to be working with a Native Hawaiian NGO that connects Hawaii’s natural farming techniques with Native Hawaiin youth. I am excited to learn about native agriculture practices, Hawaiian culture, and all that island life entails. During my gap year, I plan to read many books, run every day, try new foods, and much more. I love school and I love learning, but I can’t enjoy or succeed in college (or life) unless I take this time to nurture myself and learn to balance. If international conditions miraculously improve, then I would love to spend some time doing service in Indonesia. I have recently learned Indonesian Language and have a great appreciation for their unique culture. I’d also like to embark on an extended backpacking trip with a friend (who I convinced to take a gap year), but I’m open to whatever this uncertain year may bring my way.

I am thankful for my experience at NCSSM because, despite the personal challenges I endured, it has made me realize that learning can take on so many unique forms and there is not one singular path to success. My learning should be tailored to what I need at this moment on my journey. The knowledge I will gain through my service work and self-reflection during this year will be more valuable to me than virtual college classes and completing online assignments. My gap year will provide a space for the much needed clarity, direction, and momentum that will allow me to succeed in college next fall. I am so excited to embark on this incredible journey and to have the support of UNC’s GGYF to help me every step of the way.