September Without School: On Starting My Gap Year

By Ben Altschuler

I can’t remember the last September where I did not prepare a book bag, a pencil case, notebooks, my calculator and so on and so forth for the beginning of school. Each year I got older and was told I was in a different grade. Nonetheless, school felt endless. I remember sometime in the second grade thinking about how much school I had left. Four more years of elementary school, three more years of middle school, and then four years of high school. Eleven more years--an eternity to me. And that did not even include college or the possibility of graduate school.

In second grade I may have wanted it all to be over as soon as possible. But by second-semester senior year, I was grasping for every second I had left with my best friends. Over the past six years, I had formed some of the most precious friendships a man could dream of. We not only ate together and texted all the time, but were in many of the same classes and on the same sports teams. We worked on projects in the library together and pulled all-nighters at each other's houses finishing projects until they were perfect. Hell, one of my best friends lived three blocks from me, and you can believe that we determined the exact location in between the two apartments--the meeting spot--to ensure each had to walk an equal distance home alone. Second grade me wouldn't believe it, but the eleven years passed in a flash. In June I graduated from high school and soon I will be at college, but before that, I am taking a whole year off from schooling. It is surreal to not be preparing for school this September, and definitely even more insane to be seeing pictures of my friends' dorm rooms (hours from the City), and hearing about their roommates who I am only a little scared will replace me as a best friend. Nevertheless, I could not be more excited--and nervous--for what awaits me this gap year.

Before the gap year began I consulted everyone I knew who knew anything about gap years. I took their advice, their experience, and tried to formulate my own plan. The most consistent piece of advice I received was to set some concrete goals. I wanted to balance fun, challenging, new and worthwhile. Ever since I completed a month-long bike trip down the Pacific Coast at the end of 9th grade, I had dreamed of biking from one coast of the United States to the other. However, between then and now there was never a 6-8 week span of time that I could devote to biking across the country--until now. Beyond cycling I enjoy programming and given the fact that many other prospective interns will be at school, I may be given an incredible opportunity to gain real-life programming experience at a serious company. Finally, I have always been interested in exploring a part of this world that is drastically different from my sheltered life in Manhattan. So with that, I formulated three goals: see a part of the world completely foreign to me, get real-life programming experience, and bike across the contiguous United States.

I have a flight booked for Vietnam but beyond that, I have only leads and ideas. I may spend up to three months traveling Southeast Asia. I may spend only a month and begin programming at a company in Slovenia or I may work at a company in NYC or do something I have yet to even think of. Next summer I hope to bike across the country, but with what group or from what coast to the other I do not know. I will be flying to Vietnam in ten days, and I will start college in August 2019 and in between I will have an incredible year, or not, I really don’t know what lies ahead.