by Lydia Velazquez ‘17
Recently, gap years – a yearlong break from school spent to travel, work, or just better understand oneself – have become popular among American students. According to a survey by the American Gap Association conducted last spring, between 30,000 and 40,0000 students go on a gap year annually. Furthermore, in 2016 there was a 22-percent increase from the previous year in students who took advantage of the opportunity. Among the thousands of students that took a gap year in 2016 was Sherwood alum Meredith Kahan.
Kahan, originally a member of the Class of 2017, decided in her sophomore year to do something more adventurous than follow the “four years of high school to four years of college” path, so she made plans to graduate early and take a gap year instead.
“I wasn’t very happy with high school, I wasn’t going to have many classes to take senior year and I really wanted to see the world,” said Kahan. “I’ve always believed that people learn by doing, so I thought I should do something instead of sitting in a classroom.”
To prepare for her gap year, Kahan worked with her counselor regarding the requirements to graduate early, including taking an English class over the summer. She then worked with a gap year planner to help her prepare and decide where she wanted to travel and what she wanted to do. Once decided on the international programs she wanted to participate in, primarily in cities in Western Europe, Kahan applied to them and ensured that she had the proper documentation for each country she’d visit. Kahan afforded her travels using savings as well as money earned from three jobs she worked the summer prior.
Since graduating last June, Kahan has traveled to England for a month, participating in a cooking class (in which she became a certified chef), Belgium for a few weeks, Paris for a few days, and Florence for a month of language and art classes. She is currently in Dublin for a three-month internship at a daycare center, and travels around Ireland in her spare time.
“[Traveling has] made me much more knowledgeable about the world we live in,” said Kahan. “It’s helped me become more mature and independent.”
Kahan has been living throughout Europe during a time of political anxiety as well as when a number of terrorist attacks have occurred in major cities and tourist destinations. While in England during the presidential election, many people would ask Kahan about her opinion on Trump and when in France post-election, Kahan saw lots of political art making fun of both Trump and Putin. But the political unrest she has witnessed isn’t limited to critique over America’s political state. While in Ireland, Kahan has been able to observe the fight against their 8th amendment, which takes away a woman’s right to choose abortion, and has seen many protests and rallies occurring in the streets.
“Traveling during this time makes me more nervous for the world’s future than I perhaps should be however I also see many problems first hand now. Reading something in a newspaper is different than hearing someone’s personal struggle first hand.”
As her gap year slowly comes to its close, Kahan is preparing herself for school in the fall. In late 2016 she took a twomonth break from traveling to rest and apply to college. Kahan was accepted to Kalamazoo University in Michigan, and to study, and potentially major in, chemistry while there.
“I think being out of the country for so long will make living away from home, while I’m at college, a breeze,” said Kahan.
Her advice to anyone else that wants to take a gap year? “Don’t do things ‘for college,’ do things that interest you and will make you feel like you’re spending your time well,” said Kahan. “Travel for yourself. Rely on people around you and know that everything’s going to work out.”