Transitioning to College after a Gap Year: Alumni Spotlight

Global Gap Year Alumna, Corey Schmolka, reflects on how her experience with Thinking Beyond Borders impacted her college transition and first semester at Bowdoin College:


“What is going on?” This was one of my most asked questions throughout TBB. My journey with Thinking Beyond Borders was completely unlike anything I had ever done before. I was suddenly surrounded by new people, languages, foods, places, activities…new everything. I was asked to see things differently too, challenged to think with a new, critical lens. Everything felt new and unfamiliar, and, I won’t lie, it was overwhelming and scary at first. The start of TBB marked the biggest transition I had yet to have – a transition away from the house, family, and friends that I had known my whole life. A transition to the unknown.

But I learned to love the newness. It was exciting to see new countries and taste new foods. It was amazing to feel engaged in seminars and to have an opportunity to take more ownership of my learning. It was incredible to form meaningful relationships with new people – within the TBB group and with my host families and other community members. Yes, it was unfamiliar and uncomfortable at times, and I often had no clue what was going on, but I learned so much in those moments of uncertainty. I could notice my growth and it was exhilarating. 

This August, my gap year came to a close and I transitioned to college. Much like TBB, there were a lot of uncertainties about my first semester at college. What do I want to study? How do I balance my social life and college-level work? What if my roommate and I don’t get along? What the hell is going on at college? TBB didn’t offer me direct answers to most of my questions, but it did prepare me to be comfortable with the uncertainty and to thrive in unfamiliar environments. Because of TBB, I entered my first year of college feeling ready to face more newness. I knew it was okay to not know things and that it was okay to not know what the hell is going on. I was comfortable with the fact that I had more questions than I had answers.

What do I want to study? I have no clue. It’s not that I’m not interested in anything – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Ever since the education unit in Thailand, I have been interested in studying education…but I also love psychology, creative writing, environmental studies, and math. Before TBB, my countless interests overwhelmed me and I hated that I couldn’t “get my life together” and choose one and stick to it. But my travels and studies with TBB showed me that there truly are so many ways to live your life, and there is not one set path that will lead you to happiness. I now find it exciting to love so many things and it has been great to take courses in several different departments during my first semester at Bowdoin. And I have a restored love of learning after a step back from the traditional classroom during TBB. 

How do I find balance? I know that I might never know the perfect recipe for finding balance in my life, but TBB has taught me ways to manage that. A foreign concept before TBB, self-care has been crucial to my sanity in college. I’ve learned to create time to “alone cone” and be by myself, even when it means the FOMO is real. Rest and relaxation allow me to succeed more in all my endeavors – be they academic or social – and are especially important in a time when everything is new and overwhelming. 

What if my roommate and I don’t get along? Transitions are hard and we both will be going through them. But we can do so together. Time and time again during TBB, our new little family supported each other as we transitioned from one thing to another. We learned how to support each other and get along. My college roommate and I don’t have to be best friends (though if we are, that’s great), but with direct communication and vulnerability (both well-learned skills from TBB), we can be there for each other and coexist at the very least. No matter how different she and I might be, we can learn new perspectives from each other and for that I will forever be grateful.

What the hell is going on? I have no clue. I have now completed my first semester of college at Bowdoin, and I still have countless questions. I may not know what the hell is going on a lot of the time, but I do know that that’s okay. I know that confusion and curiosity go hand-in-hand and that by allowing myself to embrace the unknown and unfamiliar, I am allowing myself to learn.

I cannot imagine how different my first semester of college would have been if I had gone immediately after high school. I would not know how to manage so many new things at once, let alone be genuinely happy while amidst the newness. My transition to Bowdoin has been just about as smooth as it could be, and I credit Thinking Beyond Borders for much of that. I am incredibly grateful for my experiences and growth throughout TBB, and I look forward to uncovering and appreciating more and more ways TBB has prepared me to excel.