After the long, arduous process of applying to college, many students found that they needed a break. Whether that meant traveling the world, staying at home, riding horses, or becoming a dancer, these Penn students felt much more prepared for college after taking a year for themselves. Unsurprisingly, their main advice to anyone considering taking one was "just do it!"

Emily Zislis (C '21)

Photo Courtesy of Emily Zislis

Where she went: Travelled and worked around the world in Kenya, Peru, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Boston, and California.

Why she decided to take a gap year: "To take some time to figure out what [she] wanted to do with [her] life." The gap year was an "opportunity to work on [herself] and [her] personal and spiritual development." It was also the perfect time to travel since she "wasn't tied down to anything," which allowed her to travel, work, and explore possible careers.

Her favorite experience: Emily went to five islands in Indonesia and had significant difficulty communicating with her first host family. After leaving the family and traveling for three months  in Indonesia, she decided to return to the first family for a bit and said it "felt like meeting them for the first time".

Hardest part: Coming to Penn after the gap year and having to deal with getting back into "school mode" and academic stress.

Sarah Rogers (W '21)

Photo Courtesy of Sarah Rogers

Where she went: Volunteering with foster children in Israel, working in orphanages and building houses in Tanzania, hiking and doing farm work in Peru, and vacationing in Mexico.

Why she decided to take a gap year: "At first, [she] didn't really want to, but [her] mom thought she needed a year to just relax after high school." Also since she was younger than most people in her class in high school, taking a year off would make her the same age as her friends in college.

Her favorite experience: Climbing Machu Picchu in Peru. It took five days and she got "an infection in [her] foot from walking so much", but finishing the climb was "a very rewarding experience."

Hardest part: She felt that other participants in her Peruvian gap year program were prejudiced against her due to her Jewish identity.

Connor Scarlett (C '21)

Photo Courtesy of Connor Scarlett

Where she went: Studying Russian intensively for nine months in Kishinev, Moldova with the NSLI–Y program (National Security Language Initiative for Youth).

Why she decided to take a gap year: "The opportunity just came to [her]" when she was offered a scholarship by the program. Since she knew she wanted to study Biochemistry at Penn, she decided to take this time to pursue "something that [she] loves that she wasn't going to study in college."

Her favorite experience: After starting to Salsa dance in Moldova, Connor became close to the people she danced with and built her own community within that group (which "forced [her] to learn some Romanian" in the process!)

Hardest part: "Being away from [her] family for 9 months," which was difficult but made her more empathetic to the people who have moved a long way for college and might experience homesickness.

Ari Bortman (E '21)

Photo Courtesy of Ari Bortman

Where he went: Working for an NGO in Philly, travelling with them to Gambia to install solar panels for the Gambian Ministry of Health, backpacking in Nepal, working at an animal rescue center in South Africa, and backpacking in South and Central America.

Why he decided to take a gap year: "[He] knew there were more things in the world [he] wanted to do other than just school." It was always a plan of his, especially since he wasn't ready to dive right into college.

His favorite experience: While hiking a popular route in Nepal, he met a few other people from many different places with whom he "got along really well."

Hardest part: Being a "type A Penn kid coming out of a super active extracurricular high school career," working in a very slow–paced part of Africa was frustrating because he wanted to get things done more quickly.

Megan Spitzer (W '20)

Photo Courtesy of Megan Spitzer

Where she went: Worked for different barns and horse riders in Kentucky, Florida, and Illinois.

Why she decided to take a gap year: She graduated high school at 17 in Singapore (where a "ton of people take gap years") and figured she had a "year to waste." It was a chance for her to "make sure that [she] didn't want to ride horses for a living before [she] she spent so much money on college."

Her favorite experience: Going to Guelph in Canada with one of the horse riders she worked with and taking care of the horses there, especially because she "had never been to Canada before."

Hardest part: "Getting back in the school mindset again was not as easy as [she] anticipated."

Rachel Pak (N '21)

Photo Courtesy of Rachel Pak

Where she went: Stayed at home and relaxed for a bit, worked as a barista at a cafe in a neighboring town, then moved to LA to complete a certificate dance course at the Millenium Dance Complex studio (after watching a Youtube video of that same studio).

Why she decided to take a gap year: She was very focused in doing what she thought she was supposed to be doing in high school rather than what she wanted to be doing. After a semester at Penn, she still didn't feel very ready for college and saw that people who had taken gap years seemed "more grounded," so she took a spontaneous decision to do so as well.

Her favorite experience: Rachel said she could think of two: "dancing on the tables of an In–N–Out with [her] friends in LA" and "learning how to count in different languages" with her friends at a karaoke place.

Hardest part: Again, there were two: the first was knowing everyone at Penn was "choosing their majors and making a stronger community" and the second was never really knowing what she was going to do next (since she hadn't made a plan).


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