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Gap year provides unique opportunities for students

Paly alumn Jake Stern traveled to Ecuador for his gap year, staying with a host family and working as a medical assistant at a health center.
Paly alumn Jake Stern traveled to Ecuador for his gap year, staying with a host family and working as a medical assistant at a health center.

Adorned in cap and gown attire with diploma in hand, the typical Paly student after graduating is prepared to leave high school and immediately begin his or her journey through the world of college. However, not all high school graduates head straight off to college, as some choose to take a gap year after graduating.Although taking a gap year may not be the most common path out of high school, recently it has been gaining popularity among students.

Many Paly students do not even consider taking a gap year as a post-graduate option, but the few who dare to take a different path from the crowd experience a year unlike any other.

After four years of trudging through high school, some students simply cannot head right back into the stress of school work.

“I was tired and I didn’t feel I had enough energy to go through another four years of school,” Paly graduate Jake Stern said. “I had lived in Palo Alto my whole life and I wanted to explore the world.”

Stern first became interested in taking a gap year during his sophomore year of high school. The gap year program that caught Stern’s eye was lead by the nonprofit organization Global Citizens, which randomly places volunteers in developing country and pairs them with a host family.

Heading into college studies a year late may seem like a detriment, however a break from the classroom can also be beneficial according to Stern.

Stern lived in the mountains of Ecuador for eight and a half months working on a range of things, from being a medical assistant at an intercultural health center to teaching English at a local school. wThe skills Stern acquired from his time in Ecuador, he believes, will help him greatly throughout both college and life.

“Taking a gap year was the best decision I ever made in my life,” Stern said. “I came back after the gap year, and felt, in some ways, more mature than my friends who had gone through an entire freshman year at college. Going back to [Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia], I now feel energetic and prepared.”

Unlike Stern, who has already completed his gap year, Yael Palmon is just beginning her gap year in Israel after graduating from Paly this past spring.

“In the beginning of my junior year of high school—which for most American teenagers also means the beginning of the college hunt, I began questioning my identity,” Palmon said. “I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life and how and where I would accomplish it, but it was my heritage, my cultural identity, that confused me.”

To find a program that would fulfill her needs, Palmon and her parents spent a great deal of time looking up different programs, but eventually they found the right program, Tzofim Shnat Sherut. The program is an Israeli youth group that is similar to Boy and Girl Scouts in the United States for recent Israeli high school graduates. The program entails a year of community service before the participants enlist in the army (All Israelis are mandated to join the army).

“I think that having a year to experience the world rather than learn about it is so important, and this is the year that you can do it without pressure of finding a job or paying the rent,” Palmon said. “It’s definitely been a little weird, but I haven’t for a second regretted my decision. It’s just made me really excited for what’s going to come after this year. I’m sure that I’m going to go to college now with an entirely different perspective on the world.”

So if it is taking a break from the classroom or a trip of self discovery, gap years have much to offer high school students who are not afraid to break away from the herd.

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