By Avery Dow
The goal of many students is to get through high school, get into the best school that they can, suffer through senioritis, finally graduate, and then rush off to their new life at college. Society pushes people to go straight into college after graduation, but what about the kids who want to take a break and go out and see the world first? Luckily for these people, an experience known as a “Gap Year” is becoming more and more popular, with many kids taking a year off in-between high school and college in order to explore their new-found independence and to travel to new places.
One person who did just this was Eric Wasserman, a graduate of Briarcliff High School and co-salutatorian of the class of 2014. Eric got into several Ivy-League colleges, and ultimately chose to accept his invitation to the esteemed Harvard University; however, his freshman enrollment was for the fall of 2015, not his graduating year of 2014. Eric took advantage of the year he had off to take a gap year and have some amazing work and travel experiences around the globe.
After graduating high school, Eric worked for the Department of Defense doing work with computer science. That fall, he got a congressional internship, this time working for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, Florida. As an intern, Eric answered phone calls, gave capitol tours, wrote letters to constituents, and even had the chance to draft a few speeches. He gained a lot of professional and political experience, which will no doubt aid him in the future. During the winter, Eric went on his birthright to Israel. “It was amazing,” he said, “to finally be at the Western Wall after hearing about it for my whole life.” The tour guide that Eric had in Israel was a member of the unit that conducted the famous Raid on Entebbe in 1976 that freed Israeli hostages. Eric was thrilled to meet a living piece of history and get the opportunity to talk with him.
After Israel, Eric traveled to Fiji and Australia. Doing service work in Fiji, Eric commented that Fiji was “not that it is all cracked up to be,” referring to all of the poverty and local villages that don’t fit into the typical image of Fiji’s resorts and white sand beaches. In Australia, Eric started out in Sydney and then drove down along the coast from Brisbane to Cairns. He got to check off a popular item on many people’s bucket lists by snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and spotting a sea turtle, which he joked that he followed like in a scene from the popular kid’s movie Finding Nemo.
Continuing on in his travels around the world, Eric then visited China with the owner and director of the summer camp in New Hampshire that he attended as a boy. The camp was contacted by a Chinese organization that was trying to bring the practice of summer camp to Asia. Eric was recruited to help train future counselors in counselor orientation because many of them had never been to a summer camp before. His time in China was not all work however, and he got to see many famous sights such as Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and lastly, Tiananmen Square.
Coming back to the States after a long time abroad, Eric spent some time up at the camp in New Hampshire for his first year there as a counselor instead of a camper. Eric was in charge of nine-year olds, the youngest age group of kids at the camp. Coincidentally, one of Eric’s campers was a little boy from China, who called him “Teacher Wassy” because of the lack of a word in the Chinese language for “counselor.” Eric strove to be a role model to his campers, just like the counselors that he had ten years ago whom he idolized while he was a camper there himself.
When asked if he would recommend taking a gap year to someone else, Eric replied that he would highly recommend it to anyone considering it. Some people may not take a gap year for fear of being a year older than everyone else in their freshman class, but Eric was not alone in his taking of a gap year; about 100 other kids in his freshman class at Harvard also experienced a year off.
Eric also stressed that gap years are highly affordable, with many organizations and companies desiring smart kids to come and work for them, covering many of the expenses. Eric traveled to China and Israel for free and then got paid to work at the summer camp. If thinking about taking a gap year, this fact is always a good one to tell parents.
Reflecting back on his gap year, Eric says that he was a lot more ready for college this fall then he would have been the previous fall. He could not speak more highly of his experiences traveling as well as working that he had while in his year off. “A gap year is great because you get to experience the real world and do things and go to countries that you may not have the opportunity to go to in the future.”
However, starting college required him to take a step back in his independence, now that he is living in a dorm with other students instead of living on his own. Eric said that after the experience, he is a lot more mature and ready to focus on work, having gained important life skills in his travels such as responsibility, communication and a good work ethic.
Eric had the time of his life while on his gap year and now gets to go enjoy college, having satiated his desire to see the world and experience new things. Eric’s gap year allowed him to have experiences that he would not have gotten to do early in his life, if at all, had he not taken a year off between high school and college. Eric started his adult life off with a bang, and hopefully other students will follow suit in order to have many memories of their own that they can look back on for the rest of their lives.