How Taking a Break After High-School Helped Me Well Into Adulthood
I was sure I didn’t want to go straight to university after high school. I wanted to take a break after 14 years of education and get out of my hometown, Bogotá, in Colombia. I had always lived there and it was important to me to see something different and breathe different air, even if just for a little while.
Luckily, a chance came up for me to go to Germany and further my knowledge of the German language for three months.
This experience was very formative. Not only was I able to develop my skills in the language and get to know the culture, but I also had the chance to take an introspective trip and get to know myself better.
Here are three things I learned during those months and why they made me a believer in taking a longer break from time to time.
I learned to truly enjoy my own company.
Despite having intensive German classes, I didn’t make many friends during those three months. Since I wasn’t there during the summer (when most young adults have the time to go), most of my classmates were 10 or more years older than me. Of course, we had activities together after class, but they had families to go home to every night and were often unavailable. So most of the time I was actually by myself.
I had never truly been alone.
Of course, it was intimidating at first. Some of the activities I wanted to do, like visiting museums, were beginner-solo-traveler friendly. Some others, like eating out, staying in hostels, or traveling to other cities, were more intimidating for me, as an 18-year-old girl, an ocean away from home.
During that time, I realized that being alone is not as intimidating as it seems. Being able to travel solo and still have some kind of routine, seeing “familiar” faces in class every day, was an amazing chance to shake that fear. It allowed me to feel liberated and somehow empowered.
For the first time, I was the master of everything in my life. I realized that being alone is an opportunity to go at your own pace and choose what is important for you as an individual. This applies to travel as well and 8 years later I’ve gone to dozens of countries all by myself.
Taking a break in between chapters allowed me to reflect on myself, what was important to me, and my future.
As I said, I’ve become a strong believer in pauses.
Of course, sometimes exceptional chances appear or events happen and you can’t get a break before hopping into a new opportunity.
But having some time out between big chapters of your life (high school to college, college to your first job…) is a perfect opportunity to do a self-checkup. It allows you to reflect on the good and the bad of that chapter that just ended, load on some energy to attack your next adventure, and reconnect with yourself.
By pausing, you can set up priorities and work towards something you truly want to do, instead of it just rushing into what you are told is “the right thing” or the first thing that came up.
I know people who have rushed into decisions because they had the chance of being accepted to their dream college straight out of high school, or they were offered an internship or a job without even having the time to apply to other things. Almost a decade later, they find themselves unsure of whether the path they took was actually the right one for them and some of them have even switched careers in the meantime.
In that matter, I think going to Germany helped me to learn to listen to myself. I chose a career path that pleased me but was also realistic, I made more mindful decisions since I knew myself better from spending that time alone.
It prepared me for moving out of for college without it being so stressful.
Having intensive German classes and living in a dorm room was some kind of mock college life. I learned to do all the housekeeping things I didn’t have to do at home (thanks mom, for taking care of it all). I got to know what it was like to live in a studio, what it was like to be (really) far away from home and from everyone I knew.
This three-month-experience allowed me to test many things. Knowing that it was not a multiple-year commitment made it less stressful. There was a clear end to it and if I didn’t like it, it wasn’t the end of the world. I could always stay home for college afterward.
I ended up loving it. So much that I chose to go to college in Paris, France. There’s always been something about the European way of life that simply spoke to me. Being able to get to know a bunch of Europeans and exchange thoughts about those things allowed me to dive into their mindset and feel even more convinced.
I don’t think three months in Germany would have worked for everyone. I think it helped me because it was closer to what I felt like I needed.
You also don’t have to go to the other side of the world during that kind of break.
As I’m writing this, I just graduated from a Masters’ degree and I’m currently looking for a job. I find myself in another one of those pauses. This time, I didn’t choose to go to the other side of the world. I went home for a while and now I’m volunteering in a project I believe in.
In the same way that Germany prepared me for college life, this volunteer job is preparing me to get an actual job. It is teaching me a lot about what I want to do and who I want to become.
A lot of people see these breaks as some kind of rut. Instead, you can see it as what it truly is.
What we often lack. Moments of self-reflection, self-awareness, and moments that help us make the best decisions for ourselves moving forward.