Lizzie Miller, a 2012 Global Gap Year and La Canada High School alumna, is a student of the University of Southern California, where she is studying Medical Anthropology. In this interview she discusses not getting into colleges of her choice, why it turned out to be a positive thing, and the role her gap year played.
Why did you decide to take a gap year?
By the end of December of my senior year, I was frustrated with the American higher education system. I felt rejected by the system by not getting into any of my top choice schools. My hard work over the past four years seemed worthless. I came home from a youth and government trip invigorated to make changes and my mom showed me TBB. I decided that weekend in January that I would be pursuing a gap year instead of going to school. I met Robin and Chris Stakich at a gap year fair in Los Angeles that February and was so inspired that I applied immediately and decided to go.
If you could do it differently, what would you change?
I wish I had brought less stuff. Packing for this trip is difficult. When I left the USA, I had my bags stuffed to the brim. I had problems carrying my stuff and because I had so much, I was quite messy in homestays! It was simply exhausting at times to lug all my bags around. I will say though, I can pack my backpack so quickly, that I now bring it on all my trips.
Did your gap year influence your choice of study in college?
Absolutely. I was one of the students who re-applied to college while on TBB. I always knew that I was interested in figuring out why things are the way they are, but I saw it as an issue of human fallibility and wanted to major in Philosophy. Then TBB happened. My personal statement looked drastically different than it had the year before when I applied to colleges. On TBB, I applied Early Decision to NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. I wasn’t even aware of this “build your own degree” program the year before. TBB stresses how interconnected different fields are in international development, and I was keen to continue an interdisciplinary study without the structure of a definitive major. I sought to be pre-med and anthropology, kind of my own medical anthropology, using Paul Farmer’s career as a guide. Now, I am at USC and majoring in Medical Anthropology (they have a set degree) with a minor in International Relations.
You’ve undertaken some interesting internships, what are they?
I’m all over the board and into many subjects (besides math). Last summer, I went back to India and after a failed internship situation, ended up volunteering for the Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. I worked at Prem Dan, a home for the destitute and the dying and provided basic hospice care for women. I also was working as a research assistant while I was in India, completing work on a publication concerning the causes of the 2003 invasion in Iraq. This past semester, I have taken advantage of a D.C. study away program through my school and interned at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Looking forward, this summer I have taken an internship as part of the research team at EMILY’s List.
How do you intend to shape your career with the experience from these internships?
I’m interested in looking at international affairs from a variety of vantage points. My primary interest is human rights, but my past few jobs have not been directly focused on this topic. I’ll be honest, most of the gigs you get as an undergrad aren’t made for you; my experiences have been fortuitous and without a degree, getting a job is really about who you know. Although the future is on the horizon, everything I have done since TBB isn’t about climbing the steps of a ladder to a specific goal. Right now, I’m focused on learning a variety of different perspectives on international issues. For example, right now, I’m working at a nonproliferation research think tank. Learning about the technicalities of weapons isn’t my main interest, but I’ve learned to approach the work in terms of human consequences, that is, if this weapon is deployed, what is the specific human impact? I’ve taken on internships for the purpose of learning more and I think what makes them good stepping stones are the questions I ask about the work, and my intention to see my topic of interest from a variety of perspectives.
Do you have mentors or heroes you admire?
I am utterly obsessed with the work of Eve Ensler. She is a personal hero of mine. Not only is she a bad-ass feminist playwright, but she has also traveled the world and patiently listened and recorded the stories and struggles of women. She has provided an alternative narrative to women’s issues and used artistry in incredible ways to promote human understanding and human rights. Eve also uses group dancing to promote her movement to end violence against women, which is just awesome.