I was the girl who decided she was going to be a lawyer and was destined to attend Harvard in 5th grade. I remember googling different universities and obsessively reading every scrap of information I could dig up. All these places, opportunities, and things I could do, was expected to do. I was so thrilled, obsessed ever, by the idea of college. Most of us don’t start thinking about career and future plans until late high school, but I always knew my dream; to go to college. Like so many of us do, I eventually came across a particular school that I absolutely fell in love with; The College of Charleston. It had everything I could ever want, and after visiting, it only served to confirmed one thing; I was in love.
The reason I and so many others fall in love with universities is, we grow up being told nothing else. You’re told and are surrounded by those who believe that your only option is high school, college, then a 9-5 job, marriage, so on. Some, and I would argue most, people see life through these increments of supposed success. What other options could there be, you know? No one told me there was anything else. But now I have come to find that that ideology is not entirely true. There are so many different paths you, and I can take.
Rewind a bit; I was accepted to Charleston and spent a few months very happily living out my fantasy, truly believing I had arrived at the epitome of success. Until the financial aid packet arrived. I knew my family couldn’t afford to pay the full college tuition and I would be the one taking the burden of the student loans. I was okay with this until I saw a number that made my heart drop. I received no aid. My heart broke knowing it was the only school I wanted to go too. If I went to that school I would leave in with over $100,000 in debt after four years. I knew I couldn’t afford that, there was no justification for that cost.
Most get over not going to their top school quickly. They go on to choose and accept a different, less expensive school. But for me, not being able to attend CofC was a huge blow. I didn’t want to go to a different school, anything else felt like settling to me. I had tunnel vision, and I realize that now, but it was really real then.
Sound the existential crisis.
Then I starting thinking, what other options do I have? Do other options even exist? I started researching. The most common thing I found was a gap year. A gap year is a period of time usually around a year that is spent not in school and takes place between high school and college, or during college. Gap year is a wide term, there’s thousands of options of what to do ranging from luxury trips around the world to nannying in a third world country. I found an American association that certified gap year companies to be safe and meet certain standards and after browsing a few I came across The Leap . A UK based NGO that offers six or ten week programs in a variety of countries around the world. I chose Tanzania, Africa, because the program there offered a business internship, which was going to be my major. I was psyched I could get experience for my resume while also having fun traveling abroad.
I became determined; I was going to Africa. After a lot of planning, research, and talking family and friends into my crazy idea, I booked my trip. Preparation included getting a $5,000 loan to fund the trip that I would personally pay off, multiple vaccinations, a ton of research, and very through packing. In January of 2016 I set off from Albany to Mt. Kilimanjaro. I spent ten total weeks in the bush (African slang), and it was the most amazing experience of my life so far.
I made my trip happen, I made my goal happen. So can you. If you’re feeling like immediately going to college isn’t your thing, or maybe you don’t exactly know what you want to do, it’s okay. Taking a gap can provide you with life experience, and a whole new outlook on the world, which in the end will forevermore help you in your future and in deciding what you truly want. Don’t be afraid to look beyond the lines. I hope my story showed you an example of someone who didn’t follow the normal path, and inspire those who are thinking about it to jump up and do it.
Alexia Holden is living her life day to day, keeping all doors open. She has gone to college for liberal arts and business and has decided to take a break before finishing her degree to pursue full time work. During Alexia’s sophomore year of college she took a gap semester to travel to Tanzania, Africa to volunteer and work. It has shaped a lot of her thinking and views on the world and life. She loves travel, culture, music, and new creative ideas and lifestyles. Alexia is currently 19 and living in Albany, NY.
+Look out for her coming soon piece Living in Tanzania to read more on what living abroad was like.
+Find Her Here