Unexpected Gifts of a Gap Year


Another gap year in the books. 


Campbell, my second son to strike out on his own for a year of hands-on learning, will be home next week. To say that I'm excited to see him is an understatement. I’m counting down the days with a Sharpie and planning our dinners together for the next two weeks.




There’s a part of me that’s a little bit sad, too.


Because I know what Campbell’s coming home to.




Reverse culture shock


Managed schedules


Not to say these things are bad, necessarily. Of course not. We stand a little taller when we meet expectations, read something new, appreciate our home, feel responsible, and have someplace to be in the morning.


I feel sad because I’ve loved watching my son grow in ways that feel real and raw and true. The kind of learning that comes from traveling to new places and forcing yourself to look at life from a different angle.


The kind of learning that comes from trusting a complete stranger.


The kind of learning that comes from getting your hands dirty as you work in a garden that provides a family with their only food for the day. And then share it with you.


The kind of learning that comes from navigating the banking, transportation and education system in a developing country.


The kind of learning that comes from resting your mind from all that you know or think is true and opening it up to someone else's truth.


Yes, I will welcome Campbell home with a gigantic bear hug and go to the grocery store and stock up on his favorite foods. I'll give him a couple days to sleep in until noon. I will ask nothing of him and bask in the glow of knowing he’s home.




I will be the first to help him plan his next adventure.


Because, if I’m being honest, I love corresponding with him in the middle of the night when he’s on the other side of the globe. His questions and pictures often stop my heart from beating. Everyone in the house can hear me proclaim, “Is he serious?”


Fifty percent of the time worry courses through my veins. The other 50 percent--I feel true joy. It's the joy that helps me sleep at night.


Planting new roots. Sharing chores and then some tea. The simple act of walking side by side through someone else’s day, connecting on the most basic human level of care. It’s made a difference in shaping my children into young adults who now see themselves as part of a global community. They say good night to strangers and wake up to friends. 


Connection has never been easier or more accessible. Affordable, too. My kids financed their gap years by working after school jobs. Uncomfortable and unglamorous are a couple adjectives to describe their two semesters abroad but they were also pretty stunning and magical, too. Every place they lived and worked offered them opportunities and friendships they wouldn't trade for anything. The secret to their successful gap years is pretty simple: They wanted this experience. And then they reached for it. It was easier than they thought. And more rewarding than they imagined.


I can say the same for me, too. 


No one ever told me that by pushing my children out of the nest, asking them to immerse themselves in cultures vastly different from the one they were raised in, would allow me to grow as a mother and as a human being. It’s been an unexpected gift I welcome and cherish. 


Karen FahleComment