Not everyone goes to college three months after graduating high school. Some people, including several Hillsdale students, find that taking a year off — a gap year — is a better decision than dashing off to school right away.
Junior Carrie Olson moved from Oregon to Chincoteague Island off the east coast of Virginia during her gap year.
“I decided to take a gap year just because I was really overwhelmed after I finished high school,” Olson said. “I just needed a break, and I thought it would be a fun time to do something different and get some new experiences before I came to college.”
Olson moved in with a woman she had never met who owned a pet bakery on the island. In exchange for room and board, Olson baked dog treats. She also worked as a hostess in a restaurant and volunteered at the elementary school and museum. Olson was drawn to the special history of the island.
There are two islands off the coast of Virginia. One has a small town, and the other is a wildlife refuge for wild horses. The horses have been there for four or five hundred years. Every year the town holds a “pony swim,” where the people in the town round up the horses, swim them across the channel, and auction off the foals so that the herd doesn’t grow too big.
When Olson was 10 years old, her family visited these islands and read the book “Misty of Chincoteague,” named for the island that is home to the wild horses.
Olson loved horses. She wanted to take home a Chincoteague pony, but her grandparents back home had a horse about to have a foal and the foal would be hers. Olson name her foal Misty. But shortly after the Misty was born, someone shot and killed her in the field. Olson was heartbroken.
“Obviously, I was completely devastated,” Olson said. “She was shot 7 or 8 times so it wasn’t an accident, clearly. My family contacted the media because my dad was told that was the best way to get the police to take the case seriously.”
Eventually, a foundation that provided Chincoteague ponies for children heard Olson’s story and gifted her with a pony, just like she had wanted.
With this connection to the islands, Oslon wanted to go back and live there. She said she was thrilled when she first arrived, but experienced some loneliness a few months in when she had trouble connecting with her housemates and coworkers.
“At the beginning especially, I was just thrilled to be there,” she said. “The first couple of months, the woman I lived with and I didn’t connect super well and so that was pretty hard.”
Olson became friends with her youth pastor and involved in one of the local churches, and said she really began to feel at home. She moved in with the youth pastor’s family and made lasting memories.
“We went swimming in the ocean under the stars, had bonfires on the beach, and went to Denny’s a lot. It was a really good experience,” Olson said. “Freshman and sophomore years, I went back there for spring break and Thanksgiving.”
Sophomore Mason Aberle headed overseas after high school for an internship in Israel with “Bridges for Peace,” a Christian organization that supports Israel and works to build stronger Jewish-Christian relations there and all around the world.
“I got a job right out of high school,” Aberle said. “I graduated and then literally a month later, headed out. I worked in what they called their international projects division. Essentially, there would be different tour groups and people who wanted to help out the community in Israel who would come through my office and be vetted. Depending on their skills and talents, or what they wanted to do, we would take them to perform different projects.”
In high school, Aberle got the idea of taking doing mission work after his brother worked with “African Inland Mission,” a Christian mission organization, and lived in Tanzania for six months.
“Coming out of high school, most of my friends were moving away to college for the first time or they were going out, taking time off to work or whatever,” he said. “My first experience moving away from home was literally moving to the Middle East, which is always on the news.”
Though Israel is a relatively safe country, Aberle did see some of the things that put Israel in the news.
“My apartment was on CNN because there was a suicide bomber who had blown up a bus like literally right in front of it,” Aberle said.
But overall, he loved his time and experiences in Israel.
“The reality is you kind of have to go on that odyssey,” Aberle said. “You sort of have to go through that experience, especially as a Christian, to get stuff like that under your belt and really become a man or a woman. You go to a place like that, it’s your first time moving out, and when you come back, nothing is the same. You’re a little older and you’ve got some experience behind you, so I think that’s valuable.”
Though Aberle is back in America as a student, moving back overseas is still a real possibility for him.
“It was kind of in the air of whether I really wanted to come back or not,” Aberle said. “I would be shocked if I lived in the States for much longer, like past my collegiate years. Since I’ve come back, I’ve really been focused on going to law school, hopefully with a bent on international law.”
During his time in Israel, Aberle saw a real need for legal work in organizations like the one he worked for. He would like to fill that need after finishing his education in the states.
“That all just takes a lot of prayer and a lot of willingness to shut up and listen to what you’re being told,” Aberle said.
Some students, such as junior Josh Bailey, take gap years so they can have a chance to rethink their plans post-graduation. Bailey’s original plan was to enter the Naval Academy.
“That was kind of my dream,” Bailey said. “I didn’t get accepted, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after that. I thought, I’m not really sold on any other university that I was accepted to, so I’m just going to call it good, take a gap year, and start again next year.”
Bailey worked that summer for a concrete factory and decided he wanted to start welding.
“I took a welding class over that summer,” Bailey said. “At the end of the summer, I finished it up and started applying to facilities. I turned 18, got a job at a manufacturing plant in town, and worked down on the assembly line.”
It was that year that Bailey discovered Hillsdale through family connections and decided to apply.
“I heard good things about it,” he said. “I was looking at engineering before that, so that’s a big change actually. I was interested in an academically rigorous environment and ended up at Hillsdale.”
After working hard for a year at home, Bailey enjoyed the transition into college life.
“When you stay home after graduation, you stay back and all your friends go on to college,” he said. “It kind of sucks. It feels like you’re not really going anywhere because you’re just working. When I did come to college, it was honestly kind of great. I was really ready to get out on my own.”