As I got older, I realized that almost all children of immigrants lived the same childhood, especially when it came to the importance of education. Not a day went by when I didn’t hear my parents talking about all the hard work they do so that I can focus on school and go to a good college – and I’m so grateful for it. But part of me feels guilty for never finding out what I actually wanted to do with my education. I will finally graduate from UCLA, but truthfully, I have no idea what comes next. Grad school maybe? But for what? I knew I needed way more time to figure things out, but the decision to take a gap year never sat well with me.
What to do When You Grow Up?
Growing up, my stepdad always wanted me to go to UCLA and become a doctor. Only the best for his little girl! But, the idea never really stuck with me. I never had a dream school or dream job. I think my priorities lied mostly in just getting through the day and having fun. Of course, I had to get good grades, and I did for the most part. My parents always let me know how proud of me they felt, but I think the expectations to get good grades and go to a good school scared me a bit. What did I want to do? Of course, I had extra time to think about this back then. Taking a gap year never seemed like a real possibility for me.
In high school, I had a rude awakening. For the first time ever, I had failing grades and I felt so lost. I didn’t even have the confidence to apply to any universities. My parents and other adults tossed around phrases like, “you don’t have much time left” and “you need to figure out what you want to do” quite often. I applied to community college, but for a while, I felt like I was “settling”. I had no idea what to do, but my parents deemed taking a gap year after high school absolutely out of the question.
Wandering but Not Lost
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I realized the lack of help from my parents might’ve partly contributed to the reason why I struggled so much in school. Of course, I don’t blame them. My mom didn’t have the luxury to graduate high school and my dad’s dad taught him that working at the panadería held more priority than schoolwork. I had to learn to navigate school on my own.
However, I had a lot of successes in community college. I finally learned how to be a good student and discovered my love for English! Of course, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it yet, but I considered going into education. And I would do it at the school my stepdad always wanted me to attend. With my future seemingly bursting with potential and concrete directions to follow now, taking a gap year seemed like an impossibility.
It’s Not About the Destination…
Fast forward to my first year at UCLA, I quickly realized that my approach to life still meant roaming around trying to figure out what to do. I quickly felt the two-year gap traditional students usually had weighing on me. Grad school costs a lot of money— money my family and I didn’t have. I THOUGHT I wanted to go into education. I spent a lot of time looking into the education minor, having conversations with old professors about the job and trying to figure out how to build my resume. But I quickly realized I didn’t have ANY experience in it whatsoever.
How could I be sure that this was what I wanted to do? This wasn’t something I could just “try to see if I like it”. I had real stakes and money to lose if this didn’t work out. My parents had plans for me, but I was letting them down at every turn. At least it felt that way, anyway. I needed more time, but that meant taking a gap year before grad school. Eventually, I had to let my parents know.
I brought up the long-dreaded conversation about taking a gap year for grad school. At first, they were surprised and I heard a tinge of disappointment in their voices. “I thought you wanted to go into teaching?” they asked. I did, but I think I changed my mind. I have no idea what I’m doing, and I don’t want to jump into something blind. As a student, I felt severely underprepared not just in my resume, but also with the application process. They sure as hell couldn’t help me either. But I knew I couldn’t come to them with this decision without having a plan. I told them I would use this year to go out and build my resume. I wanted to establish connections with my professors the best I could and grow my network. Maybe in that year, I could find something I wanted to do and I wouldn’t be wasting my parent’s time.
It’s About the Journey
I felt disappointed at first seeing other seniors apply for grad school or secure jobs while I decided to take a gap year. The year had a slow start but as time went on, my confidence grew and I found a completely new direction in what I wanted to pursue. I volunteered at UCLA’s Writer’s Den where I taught creative learning to high school students with other college students. I personally never found myself to be much of a writer, but I thought I could change that with College Magazine! It would be a perfect way to practice what I preach. While I loved the teaching aspect of English, I realized I also had a love for creative storytelling.
As far as my academics go, I decided to take courses that piqued my interests a bit more, even if they did not pertain to teaching. In this, I finally solidified my enjoyment of storytelling in film, videogames and webcomics. I realized that the things I enjoyed for fun could be turned into a potential career path. For the first time since I transferred, I truly felt interested in what I was accomplishing. I shared with my parents all the new skills or ideas I learned from school that day or even small accomplishments like updating my resume and acing that interview. Along with myself, my parents realized that maybe taking that gap year turned out to be one of the best things for me.
Current Destination: Self-Confidence
For all I know, this gap year could turn into two or three. Like many other students, I could take years off of school before I return for grad school, if ever. Unfortunately, one of my parent’s biggest anxieties for me still remains a real possibility. But again, hindsight is 20/20! I believe they feared for me only because I lagged so far behind other students who seemed to have their whole futures planned out.
I never found my drive and if I took time off of school, I would lose out on certain opportunities to find it. However, since my difficult decision to take a gap year, I’ve felt such relief and optimism for the future. I can honestly say I think that my parents feel proud of me too. Education always tended to be a point of tension between us because they expected so much of me. They still do, only now I believe in myself just as much as they do.