To kick off The Crier’s New Alum Spotlights, we decided to interview Claire Darrow from Casady’s Class of 2017 about her bridge year in India (more specifically in Pune, Maharashtra). Her experience not only serves as a testament to the vast opportunities we have ahead of us, but also as a reminder to not always discredit “traditional” college paths in favor of the more conventional options.
Q: What did you do on your gap year?
A: Last year I took a gap year (or preferably, bridge year) in India with a program called Global Citizen Year. While in India, I lived with a host family, attended Hindi classes, and was placed in an apprenticeship to teach English. In my apprenticeship, I was known as “Didi,” or big sister in Hindi, and helped teach English and Math to 5th and 7th grade students. In addition to these program aspects, I helped teach art classes, started my yoga training, and made lifelong connections.
Q: How did you hear about the program, and what made you do it?
A: During the fall of my senior year, I was narrowing down my college list, and had the realization that I was starting to narrow down other aspects of my life based on what I had been told was the “normal progression of things.” I have always had a keen interest in learning new languages and traveling, but I had never considered doing something as drastic as taking a gap year until that realization. I started looking for programs with a language learning component and was drawn to the mission of Global Citizen Year. I also realized taking a gap year would not be a break in my education, but rather a bridge connecting what I had learned at Casady to a challenging year in India to having a context and framework to start college with a fresh perspective.
Q: How do you feel like your Casady experience influenced your decision to do the program? How did it help you abroad?
A: In my experience, Casady lived up to its mission of preparing and challenging me in mind, body, and spirit. With that influence in mind, I sought out a program that would continue that mission. Last year, I was stretched out of my comfort zone many times, but I was definitely poised to look at the big picture, follow my curiosities, and keep asking the hard questions. I think I owe Casady a debt of gratitude in that regard.
Q: What were your favorite parts of the experience and India writ large?
A: My favorite parts of India were easily the connections I made and the people I met, from the relationships I formed with the students at Maharana Pratap School, to drinking chai and chatting everyday with my host mom, and the bonds I made with my cohort. I also had the opportunity to travel around other parts of India with my mom and see the diversity of a beautiful place. The small moments with the right people continue to stand out against the rest and made the challenge worthwhile.
Q: What are you doing now that your gap year is over?
A: Now that my gap year is over, I am attending Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. It is a liberal arts school with a wonderful local community and unique global outlook. While I am currently undecided in my major, I hope to continue challenging myself and my biases while finding new and creative ways to look at issues such as development, sustainability, and culture.
Q: What advice do you have to Casady students who may be considering undertaking projects like you did or taking gap years?
A: Do it while you have the chance! Even if you’re anxious, feel the creep of self-doubt, or worry about straying too far from the “traditional path,” there is a world to see and people to meet. There are also so many scholarship and financial-aid opportunities if you know where to look. In terms of benefits, you learn so much about yourself, outside of the context of grades and pressure. You learn so much more about a different culture and a different part of the world than you could if you traveled for less time, and you make a lot of great connections throughout the year within your community. In addition to personalgrowth, you practice a different language, gain internship experience in a field you’re interested in, and takepart in something that’s becoming increasingly popular and seen as more valuable to employers, colleges, and groups that want to see evidence of travel experience and maturity. Gap Years and time away from home before college have been commonplace in Europe and Australia for decades. Although gap years may not be the norm, more and more people like Malia Obama are taking gap years to expand their horizons, let the world be their teachers, and come to college with direction and purpose. The world needs the motivated and the curious. The world needs you.