Gap Year Q&A

Hi, future Whitties! I got the chance to have an amazing conversation with junior Sarah Murphy, a Classics major, while she was abroad in Italy. Sarah took a gap year before she came to Whitman and spent time in the American Field Service Program in Finland. During this Q and A, she shares some highlights from her travels, talks about how her gap year influenced her decision to come to Whitman, and it has shaped her current Whitman experience.


Q: What brought you to Whitman?

A: My father attended Whitman and after touring the campus I fell in love with it just as much as he had! As a prospective student, I had the pleasure of meeting professors Dana Burgess and Kate Shea who wonderfully introduced and welcomed me into their quaint Classics Department. After sitting through a couple splendidly individualized classroom environments during their Latin and Greek classes, I knew Whitman was absolutely a destination I wanted to reach.


Q: What influenced your decision to take a gap year?

A: I decided to take a gap year because I knew what I wanted to do with it: travel. I wanted to pause my comfortable, familiar American life and do something that scared me. I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew my name. I wanted to live and experience a place completely different than what I had normally been accustomed to experiencing. Living in a foreign country for an extended amount of time was the perfect way to do that, so I applied to go on foreign exchange through a program called American Field Service (AFS)



Q: How did you learn about this specific program?

A: When I was 7 years old, my family decided to host an exchange student through AFS from Santiago in hopes that my sisters and I could learn Spanish from her. Quickly after she arrived, we realized that the point of AFS was not solely for the students to teach the host family their language and culture, but for the student to also delve into the new culture and language of their host country. As she stayed with us for 11 months, we saw her become more worldly every day and became enormously humbled by this growth that we aided her in as well as her in us. After our first successful experience with AFS, my family continued to host 6 more exchange students. Every single student we hosted left wonderful memories for us and encouraged me to go abroad in the future.


Q: What was your gap year experience like?

A: For my gap year, I lived in Finland as an exchange student for 11 months. I lived in a small town of 4,000 people called Pihtipudas for the first 6 months before moving down to a bigger city called Jyväskylä for the latter half of my exchange. I got to live with two fabulous host families, both of which I love dearly and still keep in touch with to this day—they’ve even ventured over to Arizona and had the chance to meet my real family.


Q: What was it like coming to Whitman after that experience (adjustment, any nervousness, excitement)?

A: Honestly, coming to Whitman felt like a piece of cake after being away from home for so long. My gap year swept away any remaining nerves I had concerning homesickness and truly prepared me for the independence that comes with starting college. After spending 11 months practicing making friends with completely new people every day at school, I felt extremely confident approaching new faces upon my Whitman arrival.

Q: How did your gap year experience tie into your academic experience?

A: Overall, my gap year shaped me into a more critical thinker. I learned the value of time, attention to detail, and teamwork. I expanded my knowledge of linguistics by teaching myself Finnish with the help of a textbook, a couple apps, and my little 8-year-old host sister. I became a more confident public speaker after giving countless presentations to my high school friends, speaking at public gatherings about my country, and performing with my Finnish music band. During my studies at Whitman, I continue to find myself applying little skills I learned abroad to my mannerisms in class.



Q: What would you say to someone considering a gap year about coming to Whitman?

A: If you’re looking for a sign to take that gap year you’re considering taking, this is it. A year in between high school and college is going to be beneficial to you as long as growth of some kind—even if it’s small—takes place within yourself. This year can be whatever you choose to fill it with, whether that be foreign exchange, casual travel, working, writing, even learning a new instrument. Challenge yourself to do something you’ve always wanted to do—you’ll thank yourself later.

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