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Why the Rush? Students Take Time for Self-Enrichment Before College

After four rigorous years, some Deerfield students are ready for a change of scenery. The motives for taking a year “off” reflect this desire.

      Gabe Blanchet ’08 warned, “Going straight from the Deerfield bubble to a college bubble can be treacherous.”

      And Jessica Laporte ’09 explained her reason for taking a gap year as “I want to be refreshed, so once I go to college, I won’t be burned out.”

      Whether spending time perfecting strokes in the pool, backpacking in Argentina, or building electric cars, students believe that gap years can be valuable opportunities for self-enrichment and global service.

      Many members of this year’s senior class have taken to heart the prospects of what a gap year can offer. In July, Anne Jamison’ 09 will be working at the Timbertop campus in Mansfield, Australia. Timbertop is a branch of the Geelong Grammar school, the largest coeducational boarding school in Australia.

      At this school, the students learn to ski, run, camp, and live off the natural elements. Jamison will be one of 12 general assistants. Her tasks range from chopping wood to doing paper work.  When asked what she is most nervous for, Jamison said, “I grew up skiing; but running—not so much.”

      She is referring to the required marathon through mountains at the end of her stay in June of 2010.  Nevertheless, she looks forward to her gap year because, as she said, “When else in life will you have nothing holding you back and not be reprimanded for slacking?”

      Laporte is planning something a little of the beaten track: being an au pair for three boys in France. This is the perfect position for Laporte because, she explained, “I studied French in school for many years and finally look forward to being forced to speak it.”

      Laporte, a proctor, loves working with kids and hopes to major in child development later on at Tufts, where she will attend come the fall of 2010.

     But you don’t need to fly to another hemisphere to find a meaningful way to spend your gap year. Last summer, Andrew Wood ’09 met with the boys swimming coach at Stanford University, who advised him to take a year off and devote it to swimming. When this advice was seconded by his club coach, he decided to look into an Olympic program in the Boston area.

     Wood, when describing why this is the right choice for him, said, “Swimming is one sport where there aren’t really professionals. The fastest meets take place in college.” Wood, who has only been swimming for three years, explained that he needs another year of practice if he wants to swim in a strong college program.

      Blanchet, a member of the class of 2008 who is currently taking a gap year, applied for two jobs right after graduating. He successfully received both positions: a sales-level job at a local outdoor school and a paid internship in the ER at Mercy Hospital in Springfield.

      Last summer, he decided to build his own electric car, like the one in the Koch Center, and presented it to schools over the winter. Also during the winter he coached two Eaglebrook ice-hockey teams, which he referred to as, “the most rewarding activity of my year.”

      Blanchet, using his acquired skills from the ER wrote a medical case report which now awaits publication in a medical journal. He is currently working and preparing for a summer filled with triathlons, backpacking, his first half-Ironman and maybe a ski trip in Chile or Argentina.

      Fellow classmate Charlotte Parker ’08, who just returned from Argentina, spent last summer lifeguarding in Massachusetts and writing articles for her local paper. In the fall, she resided with her mother’s cousin in Venice, Italy, working for a glass designer.

      Once winter hit, she and two other ’08 graduates, Bo Swindell and Amos Denny, rented an apartment in Buenos Aires for a month. Swindell and Denny then went backpacking and Parker continued on to La Plata, a university city where she began a two month internship with the Foundation for Sustainable Development.

     “We taught English and basically just tried to show them there is more outside their neighborhoods,” Parker explained. She highly recommends her program to anyone considering a gap year.

      Parker described a gap year as “beyond the traveling, a chance to think about who we really are and how we want to live our lives.” She said, “It sounds so cheesy, but it’s true, it’s a year for self-discovery.”

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