By Samay Bansal, Class of 2016 UWCSEA Dover, Tufts University Class of 2021
Gap years are an opportunity to grow, to learn about yourself, to travel the world, to give back to the community, to make mistakes, and so much more. Every gap year is different; each option offers something totally different, and there’s no ‘right answer’ to the common question, “What should I do in my gap year?”
I decided to make my gap year not about one thing, but many things. I combined many of my different interests to explore a variety of experiences before I headed to university to study Economics and Entrepreneurial Leadership. After graduating, I travelled the world for the next 16 months. I undertook a Semester at Sea, volunteered at the LaValla School in Cambodia, worked in the electronics markets of Dubai, motorbiked through Vietnam and furthered my own philanthropic project, The Million Meals Challenge.
I want to focus here on the philanthropic work I did during my gap year, as UWCSEA really helped develop my passion for service. The idea that I can positively impact someone’s life is something that I will just never stop being excited about, and my seven years of Service at the College with LaValla Global Concern (GC) gave me an opportunity to explore this passion. When I was planning my gap year, I knew I wanted to spend time at the LaValla School in Takhmao, and I was so happy when I was able to spend six weeks there teaching English to children and assisting the teachers and kitchen staff. I loved being on the ground working in Cambodia, really living day to day with the staff and children at the school. My time at the LaValla School reinvigorated my passion for philanthropic work, and it was really hard to say goodbye at the end of the six weeks.
My own current project, The Million Meals Challenge, started in the summer of 2016 when I was in my hometown, Ludhiana, India. The weather was hot and I noticed that labourers had no respite from the sun and were malnourished. I contacted as many people as possible in Ludhiana to arrange to set up a food stall and the preparation and distribution of meals. We purchased food from Ludhiana’s own markets, not just to reduce costs and transportation, but also to give the local economy a boost. We organised the food ourselves by either preparing it for cooking or packaging for distribution. I was inspired by the book The Shed that Fed a Million Children by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, and by Ludhiana’s own chabeels (family-run stalls that distribute free refreshments) which I noticed had a constant positive impact on the city’s community. To date, The Million Meals Challenge has provided over 30,000 meals and the hope is that this reaches 50,000 in the next few months. As per the name of the organisation, the end goal of the project is to provide a million meals to individuals in need through three channels: a free food distribution stall, subsidised food provisions and donations of foodstuffs to a larger organisation.
Taking a gap year was almost certainly the best decision of my life—it gave me a better perspective on the world, taught me to be spontaneous, to stay calm in tough situations, and to truly value the people I met as much as the places I saw. At UWCSEA, we have a unique opportunity to go to school with students from over 80 countries and learn about their backgrounds through our interactions. However, travel allows you to learn about people while you are in their everyday life. I learned so much just through talking and developing relationships with new people.
Before my gap year, I was fairly certain that I wanted to explore business and economics at university and my time away only solidified this sentiment. Through my travels, I had the opportunity to interact with businesses of all sizes and this increased my understanding of how global differences lead to both similarities and differences and how businesses are adapted specifically to their local environment. I am pursuing this topic further in my academic studies at Tufts University and am currently majoring in Quantitative Economics and carrying a minor in Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies.
It is easy to think that university is the natural transition after high school, but I would ask you to reconsider this for a second. Taking a gap year allows you to push the reset button after years of academic study and to dive headfirst into the real world, seeing what works and what doesn’t and that feedback has been invaluable. As Dr Seuss wrote, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
About Lavalla GC: LaValla GC raises funds for the LaValla School for physically disabled students located in Takhmao near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Founded by the Marist Brothers, LaValla educates 100 students aged 10 to 19 years. A number of the students are boarders. The LaValla students are amputees as well as victims of landmines, polio or have mild cerebral palsy. In Cambodia, these vulnerable children are often reduced to begging in the streets and so the LaValla School is an educational sanctuary for the children. For more information on LaValla, click here.