"She will get a lot more out of college."
Sasha has put together an extraordinary year for herself, ranging from working on an organic farm in Pt. Reyes, Calif. to teaching English to the young monks of a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery on the slopes of Mt. Everest to joining an international expedition to Antarctica. She has now come home totally energized by her experience and with an impressive confidence that she can meet whatever life sends. I am proud of what she accomplished and especially of the initiative she took to make it all happen.
I see many benefits of a gap year. First of all, the act of planning it is very valuable, as in the highly structured and prescribed routine of high schools and the college process these days, this is by far the most complex and multifaceted opportunity she has had to decide and express herself and her own priorities. I think parents should take a back seat in this process. They should also encourage kids to make these decisions and arrangements themselves as much as possible, rather than simply signing up for expensive and rather artificial "gap-year experiences."
There are many other benefits in terms of building a real global awareness and sense of global citizenship, connecting with a range of different people with different values, and realizing one's own position of privilege -- and accompanying responsibilities -- due to the opportunities we have relative to others in the world. I do think that she will get a lot more out of college after her experiences this year and what she has learned about herself and her priorities, but her year was full of experiences that will shape the rest of her life, not merely her college years. Finally, there is one more benefit of the year, and this was one I realized as a parent: given that this fantastic year full of once-in-a lifetime experiences and great life lessons was Sasha's idea, not mine, I learned that I no longer have better ideas than she does about what she should be doing... she seems quite capable of choosing her own paths, even those with some risks and some rather high stakes.