In this spotlight series, TBB Alum Meg Stolberg, who came to us from Marion Taylor at Taylor the Gap and Kent Denver School, shares why she decided to take a South American Gap Semester. Meg tells the story of how she found the sense of purpose that she needed after high school, and how her gap year has inspired her future career. She will be attending Washington University in St. Louis in the fall.
How did your South American Gap Semester help you find a sense of direction?
I was hoping to gain real-world experience and a sense of direction to guide me through college and beyond. There is no doubt that my time with Thinking Beyond Borders gave me both experience and direction. Living in communities culturally and socially different from my own forced me to become more adaptable and flexible. Seeing the problems showed me that all communities, abroad and in the U.S, face similar issues relating to health, education, and the environment. In addition, I was reaffirmed in my purpose to help people not only in my career but also as a citizen. TBB gave me tangible ways to actively live this purpose. By learning how to look internally at how I can be a better agent of change, focusing my energies on working with communities instead of for them, and limiting my assumptions about people, places and problems, I feel confident that I will enter college and my career knowing how to do my best to do good.
Why did you decide to take a gap year?
I chose to take this year of travel and study because I wanted to experience firsthand our world’s problems, how current projects attempt to fix them, and what still needs to be done before being in formal classes that discuss these problems, and also how to minimize them. Additionally, I enjoy studying, but in high school, I never felt like I knew how I wanted to use my studies to pragmatically help my community.
What college are you going to in the fall?
I will be attending Washington University in St. Louis in the fall. I am planning on double-majoring in both the School of Arts and Sciences and the Olin Business School. In Arts and Sciences, I will likely pursue a major in either International Area Studies or Environmental Policy. In the Business School, I hope to study Finance or International Business. I have chosen to study in both schools because I hope to use the social enterprise business model to have a career that creates sustainable, lasting positive impacts in my community.
Was there an event during your South American Gap Semester that stood out for you?
It’s true that people often return home after an experience abroad with intensified gratitude for their standard of living. While I too came back with gratitude, mine was more so for my education. For instance, with another TBB student, we created a classroom activity where our third-grade students were to come up with a word in Spanish beginning with the letter “A”. When no student could come up with any word, we realized that since there were no books, teachers had to teach by forcing rote memorization. There was no creative development, experimental thought, or independent creation. While this event revealed to me one of the plaguing problems facing education systems around the world, it led me to reflect with thankfulness about my education that fostered intellectual and creative growth. That is something that I had assumed would be granted to all children in school.
Most students are concerned they will fall behind their peers if they go on a gap year. Do you feel that was true for you?
Taking a gap year did not make me fall behind my peers. For me, quite the opposite happened. Living outside the US, managing new challenges in different cultures, and both seeing and studying social, community, and global development led to increased maturity and understanding that I never gained in school. I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of traditional classroom education and the benefits that it undoubtedly brings. However, I also believe that taking time off to reflect on the world and my personal development has been invaluable as I prepare to enter college with far more enthusiasm and dedication than I would have if I hadn’t taken a gap year.