When Allison first arrived in Bali, where she would spend 10 weeks volunteering on her gap year, she didn’t want to leave her room. “I didn’t think that I had the potential to connect with such a diverse group of people,” Allison said. “It was extremely nerve wracking for me, and as a result I completely isolated myself.” She rarely socialized with the other gap year fellows she was volunteering with, and even when she did, she was “a pretty inauthentic version of me.” That first week, Allison grappled with an anxiety many college-aged people can relate to: she was wondering about what version of herself she should offer, how to make herself feel the most comfortable, how she could please the other fellows, and whether she was trying to hard.
As she spent more time with the UnCollege community in Bali, however, Allison realized that the answer to her nervousness and the best way to build genuine connections was venturing outside her comfort zone and embracing discomfort. So she did just that, and eventually built “some of the strongest relationships I’ve ever had.” She got to know the other gap year fellows well and built connections with the students she was volunteering to teach and members of the local Balinese community.
When she met up with the rest of her cohort in San Francisco, Allison knew exactly what she had to do: accept her discomfort with meeting new people and work around it. She wasn’t alone in developing a stronger sense of confidence through her gap year — according to the American Gap Year Association, 96 percent of students who take a gap year reported an increase in self-confidence. “I was a more authentic version of myself,” Allison remembered. “Now I have so many new friendships that I think will last me a lifetime.” After such a positive experience bonding with other fellows, Allison can’t believe that she ever worried she wouldn’t be able to connect with so many diverse people.
With these new friends supporting her, Allison started to seek out ways to stretch her limits and try new things in every part of her life. She created a project challenging herself to do 10 things outside of her comfort zone. She asked a cute guy on the street for his phone number, attended a business networking event, and tried muay thai for the first time. “Overall I’ve improved a lot as a person,” Allison reflected. “I don’t run from discomfort anymore. I seek it out.”
Going forward into the next phase of her life, Allison has the confidence to be her authentic self and embrace her inner weirdness. She’s proud that “I don’t conform my beliefs to match anyone else’s, and most importantly I’m an independent thinker.” She’s ready to build connections with whoever she meets, no matter what background they come from, and knows that she “can connect with anyone.”
If you’re interested in taking a gap year like Allison, we now run our gap programs under Year On. Visit yearon.com for more information.