Katherine Murray '15


Hometown: Milton, Massachusetts

Major: History

Gap Year Description:

For my gap year, I spent four months in South America and four months in Spain. First I flew to Ecuador, where I spent two months working at an ecological reserve in the coastal rainforest. This was one of the most extreme experiences I have ever had: I stayed in a bamboo house on stilts that had no electricity and was a one hour walk from the nearest village. Monkeys howled in the day and strange raccoon-like creatures came to steal our bananas at night. I woke up with the sun every morning and went to sleep after sunset, I hiked to nearby waterfalls, and I worked on conservation projects with the local village. Next, I worked on an organic farm, also in Ecuador.  Here I learned a lot about organic farming techniques and how to take care of farm animals (and also got to have the quintessential experience of waking up at 5:30 in the morning to shovel manure). For my last month, I flew to Chile and WOOF'ed on a farm that produced a spiky horned fruit called a cuke-asaurus. For the second part of my gap year, I worked as a nanny for a family in Madrid. I lived in their house and took care of their two boys, ages 7 and 11, and taught them English. We played banangrams, read books, and argued about soccer. During the day when the kids were in school, I took Spanish classes, went to museums, wandered around Madrid, and read in cafes.  

How has it influenced your time at Middlebury:

My gap year has had a profound impact on my college experience and the way I live my life. No other experience has been more difficult, rewarding, or transformative. Taking a year off and living in different countries allowed me to truly experience the size of this planet and really consider the experiences of people in other countries. Though I had been on vacations abroad before, I hadn't quite realized that my way of life and the community I come from make up such a minuscule percentage of the world. This time has made me much more willing to consider my own life form a new perspective.  I am infinitely more appreciative of the wonderful things in the place I live, and also am able to see what should be changed.

The other valuable part of my gap year was having the experience of not being in school and not being judged by my academic abilities.  I had to let go of the part of my identity that was validated by doing well in school and getting into a good college, and realize what was truly important to me on a fundamental level. Without my parents, friends, school, or home community, I had to figure out who I was when all the external factors were removed. It was scary to make the decision to take a year off, but I would encourage anyone who is even considering it to make the leap-this is one of the only times in your life that you can take a year off to do anything you want.


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