The Fordham First Person series focuses on sincerity and self-disclosure. Not necessarily newsy, but always relatable, this series presents the stories of our community, recounted in their own words.
Taking a gap year and transferring to two different schools has not been an easy feat. I’ve gone from a massive public university, to a small community college, to a prestigious private university. Needless to say, I’m drained. At the same time, the path I’ve led myself on was that of self-improvement. People told me I was insane for putting that much effort into finding a right fit for my learning environment.
At the end of my freshman year, I realized what I was about to embark on was not crazy; this was a spiritual and self-actualizing event. Staying at the first University was never an option and I knew that. So, I made the most important, and some may argue selfish, decision of my life. I took a year off from school, or more specifically University life. Ever since those uninterrupted moments of intense self-reflection, my life has only cascaded towards greatness. Here are a few aspects of life I explored, left behind and how learning more about the world around me during this time made my motivation to return to an even better University all the sweeter.
Primarily, I felt pressure to be somewhere I did not want to be.
Throughout my freshman year at Penn State University, I wasn’t able to shake the angst of leaving home and making new friends. I felt as though I was alone in this thought, while I was subsequently drowning in school work.
According to the New York Post and a 2013 study conducted by Buzz Marketing Group, nearly 25% of millennials “aren’t sure yet” what they want to do with their lives, or their college careers for that matter.
Once I entertained the idea of transferring schools, I began to research and seek out the other people who felt the same. Turns out, I definitely was not the only individual on this earth who chose the wrong school. I also wasn’t the only person thinking of taking a year off from school to gain some semblance of my personhood. Being in school for 15 years, I thought I owed that time to myself. No one should guilt themselves into staying somewhere that they know will not be a good fit.
I broke up with a person who was hindering my personal progress.
Being at college, especially one like Penn State, where you can easily become distracted and enamored with the rapture that is University culture, you unknowingly neglect your true desires.
I found myself dating an individual who encompassed all the stereotypical aspects of a boyfriend (intelligent, good-looking, well-to-do family) but in that sense, was completely wrong for me. We did not make each other better people. I felt he was the rule, while I was the exception. I could not sacrifice my needs for the convenience he was providing me. It was not enough!
Surrounding yourself with people who bring no value to your life is inherently wrong. People should be in your life to inspire you, and bring out the best of your personality. In this sense, I was dating someone who I thought would be right for me in the “Penn State paradigm”, when in reality I was acting like a person I’d never met before.
This is not just limited to a romantic interest obviously: ditch all the people who you know are not contributing to your success as a well-rounded human being and move forward.
I disaffiliated from organizations I felt were depleting my honest connections towards other human beings.
As per every freshman girl’s (stereotypical) dream, I joined a sorority on campus. As per every freshman girl’s nightmare, I experienced the pitfalls of being the black sheep amongst a group of perfectly coifed, white sheep.
I felt weird with these girls the moment we went on our first “canning”, or money-raising trip. Of course, the first night we were all drinking. As I was minding my own business, trying not to get sloshed, one girl always had to ruin the fun for me. She said, to my best friend in the sorority at the time, “How the hell did Lauren get into so-and-so Sorority?” Like, what, sister-friend?
Needless to say, the bullying did not stop there. I was written about (briefly) on College ACB, whose objective is and will always be to bash any person in Greek life anonymously. How empowering! I was written about because I did not ‘put out’ on initiation night. Sigh.
By leaving the cattiness, annoying rituals (hazing) and the boys and girls club behind, I opened myself up to more genuine, positive and alcohol-free interactions with others on campus that did not have an ulterior agenda. Heed my warning and do some research before you commit to an on-campus group.
I took a job from The UPS Store immediately upon my departure from University life.
I know this may sound completely un-glamorous, but a taste of the real world nine-to-five grind really gave me time to reflect on my goals and ambitions in life. While hauling and un-hauling boxes from the UPS storefront was definitely an existential experience, I knew I wanted more for myself. Life could not be this simplistic; then the light bulb went off.
The reason I knew I wanted more from life was because I was seeking a challenge. Interacting with diverse customers helped expand my communication skills, but I wanted a more dynamic work experience with excitement that happened eventually. To be quite honest, I never would have made this realization in the bubble of University life.
I engaged my passions again.
While working at The UPS Store occupied my time throughout the day, I chose to begin writing in a journal (or diary, whatever) at night before I went to sleep. Although I have always maintained my interest and major of study in Journalism, I stopped writing my freshman year because I was partying so much. Endless nights next to my computer screen amped up on Adderall, trying to “study” for a math class I despised more than anything, I realized I was moving further away from my passion.
That summer, I began to record all of my short-term goals, which has ultimately led me to the empowered position I am in now.
I volunteered, or joined an organization that would improve my perspective of the world.
For two days, in the brutal heat of summer 2011, I worked at an animal shelter. Taking care of animals that are unable to communicate their immediate wants and needs was an interesting experience. It taught me to respect other forms of life, and also how to walk 25 dogs at the same time without crying.
I took four classes at a community college to see where my other interests in education lay.
A mind at rest will stay at rest. Although I wished to take some time off from the extreme pressure of attending a high-profile university, I did not cease my desire to learn. At Bergen Community College, I studied philosophy, art, math, and psychology to keep my mind sharp, and to show colleges that throughout my gap year, I did not lose interest in higher learning.
I researched and invested in my future.
The typical “memorize and spew” curriculum like that of a public University leaves a student with little time to devote to hobbies and short-term goals. Without hesitation, I realized that I had developed a passion for the arts in my community college experience. During my time off, I noticed that researching and applying for internships for the following summer was crucial, while holding a side waitressing job to save money was also just as important. One must prepare for the future, by completing hard work in the present.
This year, I was honored with a first round interview and possible summer internship at Sotheby’s headquarters in New York City. With my insistent discipline during my time off, I set myself up for an experienced future.
I sought a University that aligned with my core beliefs.
I finally decided upon Fordham as a prospective University to attend because of its excellent reputation in academics, principles of social justice, and its close proximity to Manhattan. These were all characteristics of a school that I learned, through my time off, was right for me in respect to my future.
Ultimately, taking a year off from University life enabled me to closely examine my likes, dislikes, and the people who I wanted to surround myself with. A gap year, leave of absence, or “time off”, I can finally conclude, is not selfish. It’s taking a break at some point during your college career to get your stuff together. And by doing that, you are ultimately putting your best foot forward into the world, which in other words, is being honest with yourself. Although finishing school quickly is great, learning is a slow and steady process that will last a lifetime.
*Photo Courtesy of Banksy
**Article reflects the opinion of the writer.