All along, my post-secondary plan was to head straight to college after I graduated. The last few months of senior year my plans completely changed, and I became attached to the idea of a gap year. I developed a love for big cities, and New York was on my mind a lot. Living in New York seemed pretty unrealistic for me, but I still dreamed. During the summer, my plans for taking a gap year came together, and I moved to NYC for a year of service with Americorps (City Year) in August!It was a big step, moving from Minnesota to New York City right out of high school. I have never felt so much excitement, uncertainty, craziness, and potential in my life. It’s been a blast! I had to find roommates, an affordable apartment in the most expensive city in America, and meet completely new people.
Work, living conditions are a growth experience
The service I am doing here isn’t easy. I teach and tutor full-time in a middle school in the South Bronx. Full-time work according to City Year is usually 11 to 12 hours a day, plus travel time on the subway. I haven’t watched TV since summer and I come home exhausted from the day at school.
The middle school students I work with come from very tough situations. On top of that, I live in East Harlem where violence and crime is high. Police officers stand on the street corners most hours of the day. The living stipend I receive is below the poverty line, and I have to learn how to live on and manage a tight budget and make my own food.
Despite all the challenges, I know I am doing the best thing for me. I wanted a year that would push and stretch me. I wanted to be exposed to a new culture and way of life. I wanted to grow up and experience the real world.
I plan on being a teacher, and I knew taking a gap year focused on teaching and education would pave my path for the future and provide real-world experience. I am becoming very fond of the sixth-grade class I work with all day, and I love running an after-school program. It’s been great working with my team of like-minded corps members at the school.
Focusing on others is satisfying
This year has allowed me to take a break from thinking about myself all the time. Instead, it has caused me to focus my energy and almost all my time on young students who really need extra support and attention. At the end of the school day I usually walk away with a sense of satisfaction because of the difference I am making.
I have almost no regrets about choosing City Year over going to college. I have formed new friendships and I have learned to live on my own. My only regret was not putting enough work into finding the best living situation for my gap year. The rental market in New York is very competitive and close to impossible for young people to maneuver. I ended up finding a one-bedroom apartment that I share with two other roommates from City Year. I have made the living situation work, but I wish I had researched more to find a better apartment in a safer area.
I also didn’t consider how mentally and physically exhausting City Year would be. I thought I would never be the type who goes to bed at 9 p.m, but most evenings I’m pretty anxious to go to bed at 9 or 10 p.m.
Again, I’m so happy to spend a year with City Year. It is an amazing organization, and they are putting me on a path for success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
City Year program, New York, N.Y.