Creating a Meaningful Gap Year Experience: How I Started My Own Organization

By Liv Cerba

I don’t remember when I decided I wanted to take a gap year, but once I did, I never second-guessed the choice. That’s how I ended up sitting on my bed, dreaming about the possibilities ahead of me, even though I had not even finished university yet.

At first, I saw the year as an opportunity to navigate my interests, and I was hoping to travel and get work experience in the fields I liked. You know what happened next: a massive, unexpected pandemic. There I was, stuck in my home country after having spent three years studying abroad. I couldn’t see myself further away from what I had imagined, and yet there was an exciting feeling growing in my gut. I had a blank canvas, I could do anything I wanted to, if only I found the courage.

It was at the beginning of May, and we were finally beaming at the prospect of going outside again. The end of our national lockdown was approaching and I was starting my job hunt, which soon transformed itself into a huge introspection of what I wanted to do with that “blank” year. How could I engage with meaningful initiatives despite the pandemic ?

During my time at university, one field had appealed more to me than the others: gender equality and women’s empowerment. That interest became clearer through my coursework choices and volunteering experiences, but somehow, I had always imagined it as secondary. Ideas and possibilities progressively grew in my mind… I could start a project that would be completely adapted to COVID, entirely digital, yet that could foster engagement and initiate a positive impact.

This is how Women of the World was born. I messaged a few friends I had met over the years, and they sent me a few personal stories. The goal was to share stories from women of all backgrounds that you could have met on the street or at some event. I set up a WordPress website, tried out a few layouts. At first, it was just a hobby. It soon grew into the reason I would wake up in the morning. At that time, I was doing a remote internship, and I remember speeding through my work every day only to finish my evenings and even sometimes spend late nights working on the project.  

As the months went by, the project expanded. Today, Women of the World is about to become a recognized organization. The team has grown as well, with three translators, and two executive members helping me to run the organization on a daily basis. Our goal has broadened to create a caring community where women can express their voices and fully embrace their potential. It will soon celebrate one year of existence, and sometimes I am dazzled by everything I have learned on the road, from social media communication to web development or even project managing.

Finally, starting this project has allowed me to navigate my interests and to gain confidence in what I’m passionate about. I have been involved in gender equality initiatives for a few years now, but I had never seen it as a legitimate career path for me. I was interested in social issues, and yet I couldn’t picture myself working specifically towards gender equality. Why? I don’t know. Maybe my field of studies felt wider, maybe I didn’t want to close any doors for myself.

Slowly, my perspective on that has changed. I used to be highly secretive about Women of the World––only a few of my friends knew of its existence. Now I feel confident to talk about it with my family, or with strangers, and feel quite proud about what we have accomplished so far and what is yet to come. I feel confident going back to university in September, for a master’s degree I will orient towards gender equality through public and international policy.

Taking a gap year in 2020-2021 has not been an easy decision to live with at times. Sometimes, when I saw that all of my friends were continuing their studies and that employment was hard to find, I wondered if I had made the right choice. Yet I feel immensely grateful I had the opportunity to work on myself, and to launch the initiative that has given meaning to my life and to the next part of my studies.