Filling in the Gaps
Never did I imagine that after so many empty summers of looking forward to school, I would find myself having a whole year without it. I decided to take a gap year after graduating from UT, and I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve been fortunate to learn.
When I came to UT, I made it a goal to receive my degree in three years. Initially, it was a financially-driven goal, but as it became clearer that getting a degree in three years was possible, I couldn’t imagine taking four years to take the classes for my degree. Determined and focused, I received my BS degree in Neuroscience this past May as the first college grad in my family. My next step was continuing my education to become a physician, but it would be at least a year before I would matriculate. Now, the challenge was not how learning to handle a tough course load, but instead how I devote myself during my time off. I settled on three areas: traveling, work, and self-improvement.
Although I was born in India, I had not been back in over eight years. The first item on my agenda for my gap year was to book a ticket back home to visit my big family, many of whom I hadn’t seen or, quite frankly, remembered in years. Would I be able to recognize a relative (or at least pretend) who had been anticipating my arrival? How would I react to a different standard of living? It turns out my relatives foresaw that I wouldn’t recall them and were generous enough to not take any offense. As for the standard of living, I enjoyed the simplicity. There, people relied on friends and family instead of technology to get through the day.
In addition to reuniting with family, I traveled thousands of miles via trains, buses, taxis, scooters, horses, and good old-fashioned walking. I climbed to the peaks of the highest mountains near Pune, learned about the beautiful history of kings in the city of Jaipur, and visited some of the most famous political buildings and museums in New Delhi. My time in India allowed me to reconnect with my roots while also permitting me to identify locations for future adventures.
The best way to prevent myself from becoming a couch potato was to find a job. Using resources provided by the university (thank you, Hirealonghorn.org), I received an offer to work as a therapist for autistic kids. I was excited to start working because not only would it keep me busy, but I had an interest in pediatrics, and this would provide a great opportunity to learn more about interacting with children. After approximately a month of intense training, I was finally certified and was assigned kids of my own.
What made the difference between one autistic child and another in the same class? I thought I knew when I applied for this job, but I was surprised to learn about the range of the Autism Spectrum. Some may have difficulty with language and academics, others may not pick up on social cues, and many have a combination of deficits and excessive behaviors that make them unique.
Each kid needs a different approach to help them succeed in academic and social situations. Some require me to be very hands-on and tell them exactly what to do and how to react, while others appreciate time to figure things out themselves. Regardless, it has been extremely gratifying to see a child progress in front of my eyes and know that I played a part. Being with these kids makes a future in pediatrics even more attractive, and I know the lessons I’m learning as a therapist will translate into a better understanding of my future patients.
Just because I didn’t have courses on my schedule didn’t mean that I had to take a break from learning. The only thing that changed was the method. Instead of relying on PowerPoints and textbooks, I tried to learn from experiencing new things. I wanted to learn a new instrument, so I bought myself a guitar. I finally have time to read for fun, and now turn through 2-3 books a week. I’ve made it a priority to take care of my body, and have had time in my schedule to go to the gym or go for a run. Although I’m not learning academically in the traditional sense like I was in school, I’ve appreciated expanding my knowledge of subjects outside of what can be tested on exams.
There are many more days left in my gap year and many more lessons to learn. Currently, I’m waiting to hear back from medical schools to see if I will have the opportunity to continue my education. Regardless, I know I have been fortunate to experience a gap year, and would advise anyone thinking about doing the same to keep giving it some serious thought. Not only do we all need a break from the years of schooling behind us, there are many more things to learn and experience that a college education can’t provide.
(Editor’s note: Lakshya is the former editor-in-chief of the Catalyst, and we are proud to announce that he was recently accepted to medical school for the upcoming year! We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.)