What My Gap Semester Taught Me
Hey y’all! I am currently in Cotopaxi, Ecuador looking at the most beautiful scenery. Seriously, as I sit here and write this blog I know I am going to keep looking up and just saying “wow!” at the amazing mountainous landscape. But anyways, I know you’re not reading this blog to hear me talk about Ecuador (hopefully a blog on Ecuador coming soon though!!). Today, I am going to write a short post that I’ve been wanting to do for a while: What My Gap Semester Taught Me.
As many of you know, last semester I took the semester off of school and went to live in Spain to work and study Spanish there. It was one of the best times of my life so far and I will forever be grateful for what my time abroad and my time away from school taught me. I think taking time off of school as well as living abroad teaches you things that you just can’t learn at home. Maybe some things you can learn at home, but being thrown in an environment that you aren’t fully comfortable makes you learn some things a little faster than usual. During my gap semester, I learned so much about myself and I became a better person because of it (yes, I know this sounds cliché but it’s the truth!!)
So while I was living in Spain, I worked as an au pair (basically a live-in nanny where I took care of 2 children and lived with the family I worked for…click here to read my more detailed post on being an au pair). This was a full-time job (almost…I only worked 30 hours a week instead of 40) and so it really felt like I was a working adult. Obviously, I have been in school my whole life and have never entered the realm of full time work and so that was a new experience. It was interesting to get a feel for what that is going to be like. Now going back to school for 2 ½ more years, I think I’ll appreciate the free time I have and not want so badly to graduate college and be working full time.
Practical Life Skills
Getting out of my Comfort Zone/Confidence in Myself
Along the same lines, my gap semester taught me so many practical life skills. I learned to get out of my comfort zones in so many different circumstances because I really had no choice. There were uncomfortable situations, but I had to deal with them and learn how to be okay with them. Although, I might still cringe at uncomfortable situations I feel more confident in my abilities to deal with those situations. I gained so much more confidence in myself not only in uncomfortable situations, but in all situations. I’m confident in who I am and the skills I have and I know whatever situation life throws at me, I can stay calm, figure it out, and get through it.
Relying on Myself
I also learned to rely on myself more. When I moved to Spain, I didn’t know too many people. When I needed help with something, I didn’t have my parents or anyone I could run to for help. I had my amazing host family who helped me a ton, but out and about in the city or on trips by myself, I just had myself to rely on. I can’t really think of specific examples, but there were so many times where I learned to rely on myself and this is for sure a skill that is so good to have for the rest of life.
Being Considerate of Others
Something else I learned from living abroad and especially with a host family for 4 months is to consider others more. I’d like to think I’m a person who really cares about people and considers others when I make decisions, but honestly I don’t too much. Yes, I do care about people but a lot of times I am really bad at showing that. Something I’m really working on is asking others about themselves and how they are doing more often. I love talking about myself (like we all do), but when it comes to asking others about themselves I always forget. So this is something I learned and something I am still working on every day. Another example of considering others I learned from living with a host family was day to day little things. For example, asking if my host mom needed help with the dishes, cleaning, etc not because it’s part of my job but because it would be considerate. In every day life, there are so many opportunities to be nice or show a “random act of kindness” not because you will be acknowledged or because you have to, but because it’s the right thing to do and that person will feel more appreciated and loved. I am still working on it, but I’m glad I became more aware of this through living abroad.
Expressing Gratitude & Thanks
Next, I learned how important it is to verbally acknowledge your thanks and appreciation to the people around you. Sometimes, it is easy to forget to express our gratitude but it is so important to make sure that person knows you appreciate what you did for them, said to them, etc (whatever the situation is). I’d like to think I am not too bad at this, but certain situation revealed I can always improve at this. We can never express our gratitude and thanks enough.
Communication & Honesty
I also learned more about communication and honesty. This is something I am soooo bad at. It is probably my number one thing that I want to work on-communication and confrontation. I very much appreciate when people confront me with problems and communicate with me, but it’s hard for me to do myself. There was a situation with my host family about half way through my time with them where my host mom sat me down and was super honest with me. She let me know what I was doing that she didn’t like, what I could do better, etc and I appreciated it soo much. There were things that I had no idea bothered her and I would have never known if she hadn’t told me. A lot of times we tend to assume the other person knows that this thing annoys us or that thing bothers us, but how are they going to know if we don’t talk to them? They aren’t purposefully trying to annoy us although sometimes we might have that thought. And so through this situation and others, I have realized communication is key and I want to work on being a better communicator.
It’s OK to be alone/do things alone
Finally, my gap semester taught me that doing things alone is not weird, shouldn’t be scary, and not having someone to do something with me shouldn’t hold me back!! How many times have I not tried a cool new restaurant or gone to visit a certain city because none of my friends could go with me? Very often. I lived in Madrid essentially alone and that wasn’t going to stop me from exploring the city and traveling to other cities. When I solo backpacked Europe, I went out and ate at restaurants alone because I didn’t know anyone. What was I going to do? Just not eat dinner? I don’t think so. I always thought it would be so weird to go to eat alone or go to the movies alone, but when I didn’t have a choice I wasn’t going to let it stop me from doing the things I wanted to do. I’m really excited to do more things in Austin and Dallas and even travel to other cities in the US and not let being alone or not having anyone to go with me stop me!
I’m actually surprised that this post turned out this long. But I’m glad I finally got a chance to write on paper everything I feel I learned from my gap semester. Every day, through various experiences we learn more and more about ourselves and it’s so cool to discover what makes us us. But of course, there is always room for improvement and it’s also cool to learn how we can be the best version of us. In summary, if you’re thinking of taking a gap semester, living abroad, or doing something that seems out of the norm, go for it! You never know what you’ll learn about yourself and how you’ll grow until you go out and try it. I am such a different person than I was a year ago and I know a year from now I’ll be even more different than I am today and that is so exciting. For some people, the uncertainty of the future can be scary, but for me it’s so exciting not knowing what is coming next and knowing there are endless possibilities out there! Who knows where I’ll end up next.
Texan On The Go