Calder Birdsey '20

 

Hometown: Weybridge, VT

Major: Undeclared

Gap Year Description

I spent the first semester of my gap year traveling Europe with a friend from high school. We both wanted to see as much as we could with our limited time and limited budget, and so we hostel-hopped or couch-surfed from city to city, spending 5-6 days in each place. We met countless other travelers from all over the world, and ended up completely revamping our route so we could travel with the people we met. We did all the expected touristy activities in each city, going to museums and eating all sorts of staple foods, but ended up in some surprising (and often unplanned) situations, such as motorcycling from Nice to Monaco along the French Riviera (a surprisingly long trip), and sleeping at an abandoned Austrian bus stop. I then returned home for a few months to work, bartending at a local restaurant, before heading to South Africa to work with a program called United Through Sport. I spent nearly three months in Port Elizabeth, working in the surrounding townships. I taught English and math at a local elementary school, and coached soccer and rugby for elementary and middle schoolers. Teaching in the local elementary school was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but was also without a doubt one of the most eye-opening and exhilarating experiences as well. I took some time to travel along South Africa’s southern coast from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town before flying home for the summer to prepare for Middlebury.

How did it influence your time at Middlebury?

My situation was a bit different than most, as I grew up in Middlebury and the surrounding area. For that reason, my desire to spend time in a place other than Vermont was very strong, and influenced my choice more than feeling burnt-out and academically exhausted. However, in retrospect that was most definitely the case as well. Throughout high school my priorities were based around grades, AP scores, and resume boosters. As cliché as it may sound, spending a year with no academic standards or expectation makes it quite apparent what you truly enjoy doing. As a senior in high school I was nearly positive I wanted to follow a pre-med track, and now my intended major will be architecture and design. The slowness of a gap year (something I originally worried about) becomes a blessing, and I was able to prioritize a lot of things in my life.

Spending the better part of a year abroad, on my own for a majority of it, made me truly appreciate all that I have at home as well. Especially coming to a place such as Middlebury, taking time to realize how fortunate most of us are and to appreciate the modesty of wherever you come from is really important. Spending any time in an environment that is foreign and uncomfortable will always make you more aware, and that is always a good thing.

 

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