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Changing the norm: Graduating seniors embark on gap year adventures

Izzy Poutiatine

By Sabine Lloyd

STANDING TOGETHER, SENIOR Izzy Poutiatine (right) smiles with two members from her program.

“It’s a pretty equal mix of trepidation and nerves, as well as just an incredible excitement and faith and hope that everything will go well,” senior Izzy Poutiatine said, articulating the feeling of stepping on an airplane and flying to a country she’s never been to by herself. She experienced this for the first time when she went to the Dominican Republic for nine weeks last summer.

Now, one year later, she is preparing herself for a gap year starting in Arusha, Tanzania, where she will be staying for two months and volunteering for two different projects through a program called Love Volunteers.

The first project she will be participating in is focused on providing care and basic needs for orphaned and disadvantaged children, whereas the second project will be centered around helping women who experienced either domestic or sexual abuse. Poutiatine will be working at this sanctuary to help provide educational resources, as well as vocational training, job skills and occupational support to women.

Following her work in Tanzania, Poutiatine is planning on traveling to Rio, Brazil to teach visual art at a community center in an area with a strong presence of disadvantaged children and youth living in poverty.

“For people who have a lot bigger things to worry about, economically and socially, in their lives, visual art, although it can be really valuable and especially valuable to children, is very much a luxury. It is going to be really cool to spread that, especially given my interest in visual art,” Poutiatine said.

After her gap year, Poutiatine is interested in studying international relations with specific interests in peace and conflict resolution studies, as well as non-profit work and third world community development in a college setting. According to Poutiatine, this interest sprouted from her non-profit work in the Dominican Republic, as it was the first time she was exposed to the large task of closing gaps in education and helping people gain access to basic healthcare.

Following these studies, she hopes to return to work in different foreign countries.

“I have always sort of envisioned that I’d be living in as many countries as possible for the majority of my life,” Poutiatine said.

Travel makes up the entirety of Poutiatine’s future envisions.

“You only have one life and the goal is self-discovery. The goal is to find happiness and who you are and whatever way you can do that—so for me that’s through travel and discovery of the world—you should do or otherwise you’re sort of sacrificing yourself or your dreams to do it.”

Ryan Brady

By Sabine Lloyd

GATHERING WITH THE children at the campamentos, Brady (right) huddles beside the youth group.

Without a doubt, the optimum objective of senior Ryan Brady is to integrate Spanish into the rest of his life.

After traveling to Yucatán, Mexico for two months during the summer of his sophomore year, Brady recognized his capacity to learn and flourish through a travel abroad experience. This journey encouraged him to consider and then officialize his gap year in Madrid, Spain, where he will be attending the Tandem Language Institute for 20 hours a week while living with a host family. The Tandem Language Institute is part of the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) gap year program that enforces the teaching of different dialects.

However, Spanish isn’t new to Brady; he has been working to push his understanding to greater lengths since entering high school. At Redwood, Brady has taken fours years of Spanish, beginning with level 3-4 his freshman year and ending with Spanish for Spanish Speakers his senior year. He was able to test out of Spanish 7-8 the summer after his sophomore year because of his travel abroad experience, allowing him to join AP Spanish his junior year. Now as a senior—in addition to his enrollment in a Spanish course—he TAs for the English Language Development class. Brady hopes to solidify his fluency in the language through this upcoming adventure.

“I already am fluent, but I like to say that I’m the lowest level of fluent to call yourself fluent. So my goal is to get Spanish to point where it is the equivalent of English, as in a primary language, as if I were to grow up with parents speaking it to me and it being the first language I were to ever learn,” Brady said.

Brady chose Madrid as his gap year location as it acts as an international hub, incorporating several cultures from varying countries, with the Spanish language at the forefront. Depending on Brady’s fondness of the city, he might be interested in attending a college in Spain following his gap year.

“[Attending college in Spain] is definitely an option I’m considering, but I won’t know for sure until I’ve actually lived there and experienced it,” Brady said.

The uncertain and spontaneous nature of travel intrigues Brady. The sheer magnitude of this riveting sensation is what Brady looks forward to and remembers from his trip to Mexico.

“You know what you’re used to: you wake up everyday, you shower, you do whatever to get ready, you go to school, you come home, do your homework, you’re with your family and when you get on that plane you realize that once you land, your life is going to be completely different,” Brady said.

As for the future, there is only one desire that Brady retains: cultural and linguistic immersion.

“I don’t want to have expectations because I feel like that could affect the dreams I end up having. One thing I know for certain is that I want Spanish to be in my life, every day. That’s the only dream I have now,” Brady said.

Katie Israel

By Charlotte Seton

PREPARING TO EMBARK on her gap year, senior Katie Israel looks forward to pursuing sailing and music outside the classroom.

While most graduating seniors will be preparing to attend college this summer, senior Katie Israel will be gliding along the San Francisco Bay, immersing herself in the sport she admires most: sailing.

Israel’s gap year will be filled with sun, wind and water. To begin her sailing experience, Israel will engage in a 60-hour intensive sailing training program this summer to obtain her cruising certification. She then plans to work locally for four months in the fall while spending time on her core interests, including music—particularly drumming—and martial arts.

In early 2019, Israel will join a 90-day “Seamester” sailing program. This sailing program involves a small group of gap year students from across the U.S. who will sail a yacht from the Caribbean to Tahiti, over 6,500 nautical miles. The program focuses on personal responsibility and teamwork on the vessel while concurrently enhancing sailing skills, according to Israel. Besides onboard sailing responsibilities, other activities will include college level courses in marine biology and oceanography.

From Israel’s perspective, this gap year is an opportunity to take a break from academia before returning to a regular classroom environment.

“I’ve been in school for 15 years straight,” Israel said. “That’s a decade and a half. I don’t want my entire teenage life to be in school.”

Israel said she relishes the opportunity to pursue other activities in the next 12 months.

“There’s no other time in your life when you’re going to be able to do a gap year when you have no responsibilities and can just focus on what you love to do,” Israel said.

Besides sailing, Israel will also focus on pursuing her interest in music. She wrote her first song at the age of three and hopes to expand her portfolio of over 200 original songs during the next year.

“Everything I’m doing during my gap year, I will spend the rest of my life doing, [but] I haven’t had as much time as I would like to dedicate to these activities,” Israel said.

Israel will continue to pursue sailing, music and martial arts at the University of Oregon in 2019.

Emerson Cole

By Charlotte Seton

LOOKING FORWARD TO her gap year, Cole is excited to sail the Caribbean and Central America.

Senior Emerson Cole has deferred her acceptance to Oregon State to pursue an alternative learning experience over the next 12 months.

“There’s more I can learn outside of a classroom now,” Cole said.

The fall of Cole’s gap year will be filled with local work and environmentally-based community service, such as volunteering at the Marin Headlands Nursery or at the California Academy of Sciences. Additionally, Cole is considering taking a few classes at College of Marin if time permits.

The highlight of her year will begin in Jan. 2019, when she will join her father on his sailboat to sail in the Caribbean and Central America. They plan to visit Cuba and Central America, traveling from Belize and Guatemala down to Costa Rica and Panama until late June.

“Because my dad is already [in the Caribbean], it’s a really easy way for me to travel and see many places in a short amount of time,” Cole said.

Cole said she was inspired to take the trip as a result of conversations with her dad who had previously sailed the Gulf of Mexico. He shared stories with her about the foreigners and sailors from different cultures, which piqued Cole’s interest in exploring the foreign lands.

Cole’s desire to pursue sailing is also driving her gap year decision. Cole has previous sailing experience from sailing camps and teams she participated in when she was younger as she grew up sailing in the San Francisco Bay.

According to Cole, a gap year is the ideal opportunity to pursue interests outside the classroom environment, an alternative graduation route she hopes more students will consider.

“It’s kind of nice to have a break, and it’s probably the only time in my life when I’ll have no responsibilities,” Cole said.

Daniela Cabrales

By Alexander Lieberman

REFLECTING ON HER Italy trip, Cabrales looks forward to traveling the world during her gap year.

Although many seniors enjoy traveling during the summer before college, senior Daniela Cabrales will be taking extended time off to travel the world with her father. Cabrales was considering studying in Italy or Spain, but was instead given the opportunity to travel with her father to South America and Asia, which was an offershe couldn’t refuse. She hopes to broaden her horizons while traveling and gain new perspectives.

“I think traveling is a great way to experience different cultures, learn more about yourself and expand your knowledge,” Cabrales said.

Cabrales and her father will be traveling to several foreign countries starting at the end of August. Beginning in Colombia, they will travel to many countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Malaysia, staying for one to two months in each location.

“[Traveling] is just something I’ve always wanted to do, and my dad has always encouraged me to do,” Cabrales said.

Cabrales has never traveled to South America but has been to various locations in Central America and Europe. Cabrales is excited to become more cultured by learning more about the outside world.

“Living in the States has given me many positive outcomes but also negative [outcomes]. I feel like I have become more materialistic and when you travel you forget about all this, you focus on what really matters,” Cabrales said.

Cabrales’ father divorced her mother when she was five years old. Since then, he has retired and he spends his time traveling around the world. Cabrales has come to value the time she gets to spend with him.

“I think the most important part about traveling is who you are with, because that affects your trip. My dad is always part of groups that hike and [he] takes walks for hours. In Panama he hiked a volcano that took probably eight hours. I have never done [a trip like this] so I’m excited,” Cabrales said.

Her father had previously mentioned the possibility of a trip like this to her when she was 15 years old.

“Somehow I knew I was going to end up doing this,” Cabrales said.

Sophia Comins

By Alexander Lieberman

TROTTING ON A horse, Comins will spend her gap year traveling and working at a local barn as a groom in Australia.

“[Ever since] I moved to Marin six years ago, I have been obsessed with horses,” senior Sophia Comins said.

Comins moved from London in middle school. She rides at Blue Dot Barn in Nicasio, a horse boarding facility where she trains to ride in dressage, a highly skilled type of horse riding. She will be taking a gap year to work with horses in a business setting before going to college in England starting in 2019 to study equine management.

According to Comins, she was uncertain about her post-graduation journey for a long time as she considered her options.

“For the longest time, I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school. In fact, the idea of going to university at all didn’t appeal to me one bit because it all seemed like an extension of high school but just with more work and deadlines,” Comins said. “I remember one night in September I just arrived at the barn and just started bawling because I had no idea what to do with my life as nothing appealed to me. At that moment I decided, screw this, I’m just going to ride horses for the rest of my life as that’s the only thing I actually want to do.”

Next year, Comins will be traveling and working with a gap year organization called Oyster Worldwide. She will work in Australia at a local family’s barn as a groom.

After her year abroad, Comins will decide whether to attend Hartpury University or the Royal Agricultural University, both located in England. Wherever she goes, Comins plans to work with horses as a career.

“As soon as I started talking to people in the industry, I realized that [working with horses] wasn’t actually a bad idea at all; the equestrian industry is so broad and there are many much-needed jobs from a professional athlete to an equestrian journalist,” Comins said.

Comins was partially influenced to take a gap year by her unique cultural heritage.

“In England and most of Europe, most people go on gap years because they do their GCSEs [General Certificate of Secondary Education exam] and they’ve been doing testing for two years so they’re kind of just burnt out,” Comins said.

According to Comins, although the gap year alternative is not as popular in the United States, her childhood experience in London influenced her final decision.

“I kind of always knew that I was going to go on a gap year just because everyone in England was doing it so I thought, ‘You know, why not?’” Comins said.

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