Graduating high school comes with the added pressure of figuring out the next step. For Madison Mitchell, a student at Carpe Diem's Education Fall 2017 South America Semester & Latitudes Year, a gap year was the answer to facing that pressure head on.

What inspired you to take a gap year?

Just before high school graduation, I recognized that going to college right away was not the best option for me. Many of my classmates were discussing college roommates, what dorm to choose and their majors. All of their responses were very much the same and that’s when I knew I didn’t want to follow the traditional route where I was rushed into choosing a path that I was not ready for.

What advice would you give to students considering a gap year program? 

If there is any part of you that feels the urge, do it. You won’t regret it. There are programs like Carpe Diem Education that provide financial aid if money is an issue for you. You can learn outside of the classroom by exploring other cultures and environments. Don’t rush yourself into a university program if you want to explore right now because some programs allow you to earn college credits through while traveling. Look into all the options available — whether it be traveling or working, it will be a great learning experience.

A gap year can be life-changing and eye-opening — what were your biggest takeaways?

Trying new things and moving beyond your comfort zone will allow you to grow. Talking with people you normally wouldn’t encourages meaningful and lifelong connections to be formed and allows you to gain a new perspective. A gap year allows you to dig deep into what you really want and discover your passions, your personal beliefs and your individual personality. Taking a gap year was the best decision I’ve made, allowing me to form unique bonds with people, places and myself.

How has your gap year experience impacted your academic pursuits?

My gap year has shown me that some of the most valuable learning comes from experiences and not just in classrooms. You may learn about history, theory and language in a classroom setting but through traveling, it all comes to life. Now, I better understand how important the environment is and want to study how tourism can have a more sustainable impact on communities and nature. My gap year has made me more conscious of what kind of conversations I want to be a part of, the friendships I want to have and the memories I want to make.

What was a favorite moment from your gap year?

One of my favorite moments was waking up on December 1st, 2016 in the Andes Mountains between two glaciers. There were heaps of snow which was rare for December in this area and you could only see white for miles. It felt like Christmas morning (but better) with lots of coffee, bread and jam. We hiked along the Salkantay Trail towards Machu Picchu in the snow for a few hours and watched an avalanche in the distance. I was surrounded by my best friends, constant laughter and the beautiful world we are lucky to live in.