Thinking About a Gap Year? It Starts With Self-Discovery
2019 was really rough for me. My mental health was at an all-time low, and I had absolutely no motivation. I switched schools to do my senior year from home, and I spent a lot of time working on self-care, self-love, and self-actualization.
After some huge steps forward in therapy, including coming out as nonbinary to my family, I got a dog (Cerberus); made plans to get a job and save up for a nice vacation; and considered taking a language course or two at the nearby community college. February 2020 was the starting point for my suddenly bright future with infinite possibilities.
I don’t have to tell you what happened next.
At first, I was really bummed. I did somewhat stick to my original plan: I got a couple of jobs here and there (after all, I needed money if I was going to travel); I worked on my writing and submitted some pieces to a few online contests or publications; and I still had my puppo. But, after a while, it just wasn’t enough. I had fallen into monotony and was getting dangerously bored. My mental and physical health were on the decline, and it was only going to get worse as the pandemic got more and more prevalent.
Mid-fall 2020, I started looking at colleges. I needed a change of scenery, and, more than that, I needed something to do with my life—something to be passionate about and find purpose in. Work kept me busy, but I suddenly had so much that I wanted to do and not enough time to do it. I didn’t want to enter the new environment as a blank canvas.
I decided to change my image by experimenting with my gender expression, mainly with makeup and different clothing styles. It helped affirm my gender (or lack thereof) and gave me a boost of confidence whenever I did a particularly even eye look or bought a nice pair of cargo shorts with extra large pockets.
I still wanted to see the world, so my dad and I would go for drives up in the mountains in California (pictured in header). We also got a tent that I would set up in the backyard to camp out with Cerberus.
Even cooler: Just because I couldn’t go abroad yet didn’t mean I couldn’t learn about the cultures I wanted to see. I got really into independent language study (i.e. Duolingo) and bought language books and CDs in Japanese, Greek, Arabic, Dutch, and more. I may have gone slightly overboard, but it was nice to have something to look forward to.
My independent language study set up.
I made the decision to educate myself on civil rights issues and social advocacy, which essentially cured my writer’s block. My strong suit is poetry, but I was able to hone my interest on specific subjects, such as the transgender nonbinary spectrum, reparations for slavery, and different waves of feminism. I came up with video essay ideas. I engaged in research on the history of these communities. Most of my writing focused on Black history, LGBTQ history, women’s history, mental health, and human/civil rights.
In California with my dad.
I also did a lot of arts and crafts, especially crochet. It was a good coping mechanism for anxiety and depression, as well as an activity I could work on for long periods of time. I started learning how to paint and draw as well, and I even delved into jewelry-making.
When I happened upon Arcadia University, I was hooked on studying abroad from the start. I know that things are still pretty up in the air (pun intended), even for the fully vaccinated, but I felt hopeful and excited at the growing possibilities. Finally, my travel plans were coming to fruition, even though traveling for school is entirely different from taking a quick vacation. Plus, there were several modern language options available that corresponded to some of the destinations.
I still wanted to develop my writing skills into a career, especially fiction writing, so I latched on to the English B.A. with a concentration in Creative Writing. As for social advocacy, I was really excited about the Pan-African Studies and the Gender & Sexuality Studies minors because I wanted to learn about where I come from and how my communities have fought for themselves throughout history. I must have spent hours looking at all of the course offerings, drawing up a four-year plan with the classes I most wanted to take, from Racism: Myths and Realities (SO230) to Black Thought and Philosophy (SO295) to Feminist Theory (SO370). I could also take a drawing class or two, learn to play an instrument, and join organizations like the Knitting (and crochet) Club or Writer’s Bloc.
I based my academic career around the things I enjoy in my free time… and the parts of me that I’m most proud of. I believe that I can make an impact and a difference doing what I love.
– Elijah Arnold
My point is this: I based my academic career around the things I enjoy in my free time (writing and research) and the parts of me that I’m most proud of (being African American, nonbinary/LGBTQ, bilingual/biliterate). I believe that this is the best way to stay sane and optimistic: to make life’s pleasures into your life’s work. I believe that I can make an impact and a difference doing what I love.
If you’re like me, and you needed a break from school but don’t know how to get back into the swing of things, just think about your immediate likes and dislikes, your hobbies and skills. See where it takes you. You may end up on the other side of the country.