K.J. Park, ’11, (third from left) poses in the center of Muenster, Germany, with a street accordion musician and friends. Park participated in a German language-immersion program while taking a year off from college. This photo was taken for the program’s new brochure.

Mind the (gap) year: Alumni gain independence, focus in their time off

To be a student at Country Day is to have the general outline of your education already planned – four years of high school to be immediately followed by four consecutive years of college.

As it has been, so it shall be.

But some students have challenged that model. Lauren Taylor, ’11, K.J. Park, ’11, and Nick Samson, ’12, all decided to take a year off during college.

When Taylor finished her sophomore year at Occidental College, she realized she wasn’t looking forward to returning in the fall.

She decided she wanted to transfer, but by that time all the deadlines to do so had passed. Resolving to apply to other colleges the following fall, Taylor decided to take a gap year.

At Occidental she had planned to do a study-abroad program.

Now that she was transferring, those plans were canceled.

So for the first part of her year off, Taylor went to Paris for a language-immersion program.

She got the idea to do a language-immersion program from Park.

After having her admission to UC San Diego rescinded the summer before she was going to start college, Park went to Germany for a similar program.

Park studied at the Kapito Language School and traveled around Europe. She noticed that taking time off of school was much more common in the places she visited.

“A lot of people that I met in Germany graduate and then travel,” Park said. “ My host brother worked for three months and then traveled to South America.”

As she was studying, Park became a lot more aware of everything that was going on in the world around her. “I actually had time to read the newspaper,” she said with a smile.

Taylor also found the time off beneficial. For three months, 23 hours a week, Taylor attended a school in Paris, Accord Ecole de Langues, where she studied only the French language.

Lauren Taylor, ’11, (right) spent three months in Paris in a language-immersion program after her sophomore year of college. Here, she stands with her mother, Cynthia Edwards, by the Pont Alexandre III near the Grand Palais.
Photo used with permission by Taylor
Lauren Taylor, ’11, (right) spent three months in Paris
in a language-immersion program after her sophomore year of college. Here, she stands with her mother, Cynthia Edwards, by the Pont Alexandre III near the Grand Palais.

But for Taylor the classes were the easiest part. “The classes weren’t hard in the way you would think of a class at Country Day,” Taylor said. There were no grades, tests or homework assignments.

But the transition was not an easy one. Taylor had to push herself to be more social, adjust to a difficult living situation and learn to use French with the sometimes unfriendly natives.

“Going to Paris was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Taylor said. “I had to be so independent, and I was so far away from home in a country where I didn’t know their language.”

When she initially arrived, Taylor was staying with a host, who was a psychologist. Taylor’s host saw her patients at the house for four to five hours a day, during which time Taylor had to leave or stay and not make any noises. So she left her host and moved into a very small studio apartment.

Another big hurdle for Taylor was using the metro, Paris’s underground railroad system, because she didn’t speak French well.

“Where I was initially staying was a 40-minute walk from my school, and I walked back and forth every single day because I was so daunted by the metro,” Taylor said.

But once she found an app in English that told her where she needed to go, she started using the metro. And within a month she could manage it without any help.

“But the people in the metro were mean,” Taylor said. “They were really impatient with the fact that I wasn’t a fluent French speaker.”

Taylor found that after spending this time abroad, the transition to the East Coast when she transferred to Boston College was quite easy. And her studies abroad allowed her to test out of a year and a half of French.

After returning to Sacramento in December, Taylor struggled to find an internship to occupy her remaining time off.

But she ended up doing small jobs that required work with graphic design and discovered that she really enjoyed it.

“The whole time you’re growing up, and especially when you get to high school, it’s push, push, push,” she said. “A lot of times you don’t realize what you want to be working towards.”

Taking the time off allowed Taylor to return to school with more of a sense of what she wanted to do.

While studying at Occidental, since she was an English major, her professors pushed her to go to graduate school for English.

But during her year off, Taylor realized that she didn’t want to do that.

“I’m not thinking of going into academic English,” Taylor said. “English is a good base for me to do whatever I end up pursuing.”

While Taylor changed her career aspirations during her year off, Samson is using his to further expose himself to his field of study.

Samson is a computer-science major at Cornell University.

The summer after his junior year he applied for internships to get some industry experience.

He found one at Intel as a system validation engineer, but the post lasts a full year, beginning in February.

Samson decided that the industry experience, coupled with the fact that the internship would boost his applications for graduate school, made it worthwhile for him to take a year off.

“I have more or less an average GPA,” Samson said. “To get into a higher-end graduate school, they want a higher GPA. I’m trying to bolster my chances with the internship.”

While Taylor struggled to adjust in Paris, Samson has found the transition quite seamless. He is living in Hillsboro, Oregon, by himself, a mere seven-minute drive from where he works.

As soon as he arrived, he was put right to work on an Intel server chip. “On the third day they gave me this document with about 1500 pages,” Samson said. “I’m working with people who have a lot more experience than me, so I have a lot to learn.”

According to Samson, most of the people he is working with are 23-24 years old.

“Aside from not being able to go to beer Tuesday, it’s not really a problem,” he said.

Previously published in the print edition on March 17, 2015.

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