Round Up Lifestyle: Should we consider gap years after high school?


Selem Graham

Selema Graham and her fellow classmates are touring England back in April 2018.

As the school year is beginning, I’m sure we are all seeing memories on social media of the start of our own past years and feeling a sort of nostalgia. Maybe of your last year of high school or first year at NMSU, picture days, sporting events, things you were doing for clubs. Well, I am getting some that are a bit different. I’m getting memories from a gap year I took between high school and college. 

My gap year was unlike any other, I believe there is a very solid chance I am the only one at this school who did this. I went to Norway and participated in what translates to a folk high school (folkehøgskole in Norwegian). These are very popular there with about 80 schools around the country, but pretty much unheard of here.  

Let me try to explain what they are as best I can. A folk high school is a school “for the people.” What makes them super interesting is that although there are classes, there are no grades, no real curriculum, and no exams. One of my teachers there explained it as a year for students to indulge in their hobbies before going to higher education or “growing up.” They have schools that have specialties in everything from music, to cosplaying, to e-sports, to paragliding and even a circus school. And these are just the ones I looked into, there really is something for everyone. 

My Experience: 

I ended up going to a musical school and played cornet in a brass band — a cornet is basically a trumpet. My school was one of the smaller schools with only 60 spaces with some schools getting close to 200 spaces; most, however, are around 100. Let me explain a bit of my life there. Every day started with a school-wide morning assembly (well after breakfast if that was something you wanted to get up for) then most days we’d go into warm up with your section before going to the band, then lunch. Mondays we had “room cleaning” which was like an hour to pick up and vacuum/mop then do whatever until your next class. Which I believe was usually a listening class, where the teacher played music and talked about it. We had two, one was brass band-oriented and one that was classical oriented. There was also music theory, a like “teaching music” class, electives on Tuesdays, and on Friday we had school-wide choir followed by one of my favorites which was basically PE where you just checked in and they kind of just checked to see where most kids were going to go. I always went down to the city field and played soccer with a bunch of other kids. I have a strong feeling that most of the kids who didn’t play soccer pretty much just did nothing. 

All that, but by dinner — at the insane hour of 3:45 p.m.—you were done with classes and had the rest of the day to do whatever. And that was the best. That’s when you really got to make friends and hang out. My school was barely big enough to have some cliques, but still small enough that we all socialized together anyways plus not everyone was in one. 

One thing I think most of, if not all, the school does is take a trip during the year. My class went to England for a kind of tour (I’m not totally sure where. I remember a Snapchat filter saying Liverpool, and I know we went to the Yorkshire Dales) while another class went to Los Angeles (they were the singing and music producing type of class) and the other went to London.  

Are you sold yet?  

Ready to tell every high schooler you know about this awesome thing? Bet. 

Getting There: 

Well, the thing is, and you probably guessed it, it is not cheap, and not easy to get into. I don’t know what my parents paid but I know it was in the thousands, and I believe we got a bit of a discount for being from so far away. After picking schools and applying to three and waiting to hear if I got in (which actually didn’t take that long, and only one told me no because I don’t speak Norwegian) I had to get a visa to be over there for so long, which was a whole process. My stepmom and I took a lovely day trip to Houston (I think) because that was the closest place to Las Cruces that did that type of stuff. I already had a passport which was nice, but we also had to take my birth certificate and ID and a couple of other things. I remember having to get my fingerprints scanned and it kept not reading my fingerprints right, so it took like 10 minutes. And then I think they had to keep all that stuff or at least my passport and they said it would take like three weeks to get it back. Then when I got there, I had to go to a police station for some reason, I truly don’t know why, but they gave me some kind of ID there too. 

Then there was the actual traveling part. Let me tell you how that day and a half went. My dad and I got up at like 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning to drive almost an hour to the El Paso International Airport, which followed a two-hour flight to Los Angeles (my mom lives there so I got to see her at the airport and say bye and stuff). Then, listen to this, an almost 12-hour flight to Sweden, where we had to go through customs and all that stuff. When we saw a window with the blinding sun showing through and looked at our phones telling us it was 11:00 a.m. our brains short-circuited because it was supposed to be 3:00 in the morning. After a decently long layover in Sweden we got on another plane and took about a two-hour flight to Oslo in Norway, again through customs, then another hour flight to Bergen where we were finally picked up by the family we knew and taken to their home.  It was brutal. Lastly, to top it all off in mid-August the sun does not go down until 11:00 at night, so that took some adjusting as well. And that is what you are in for if you decide to go. 

The Purpose: 

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, because I went from depressed and pretty adamant that I was not going to be going to college and not having a clue of what I’d even want to do if I did, to being accepted here at NMSU in a major that I haven’t changed and still really enjoy by November. Granted, a big part of that was that I was seeing almost all my friends from high school go to school and it seemed like they were doing something with their lives and I wasn’t. But I was still ambitious enough to know that I could go and that I could at least try. 

As I look at my own experience and see my friends who graduated high school take more than four years here or just drop out completely because they realized their major wasn’t for them and they have no idea what else to do; I wonder why gap years aren’t a bigger thing. Why do we insist high schoolers to go right into college after high school? Even Harvard pushes students to take a gap year before starting there because they know students are more likely to stick with it get better grades if they do. Before 2017, if you took a year off you no longer qualified for Lottery Scholarship when you came back, and I think that went with most other scholarships NMSU offers. 

By expecting kids to go through about 17 years of school then straight into life you give them really no time to explore the world on their own and force them to make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives at the age of 17 or 18 years old. 

I like to joke around and be salty and say “I could be graduated already if I didn’t take a gap year” but I know that is not the case. If I didn’t take a gap year, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it past the first year, and I think if more people did (take a gap year) graduation rates would be a lot higher. I truly believe we should adopt something along the lines of the Folk High Schools for our kids here in the U.S. and hopefully, you think so too. 

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