For Mariette Aborn ’17, studying abroad runs in the family. Aborn’s mother, uncle, older sister and younger brother all spent time overseas during high school. Though Aborn was unable to take time off to go away during high school, she knew that studying abroad was an experience she wanted before she started college.

That being the case, Aborn spent the fall semester after her high school graduation in Porrentruy, Switzerland, where she lived with a host family and attended Collège St Charles, a small, private Catholic school with only 18 students in each grade. 

“I didn’t hesitate to take another year to figure out where I was going,” she said about choosing her destination.

Going to a new school, Aborn noted that while her new school in Switzerland was very strong in math and science, and had many foreign language programs, it differed from U.S. schools in that there was little emphasis on literary analysis.

“When I was there, [students] wrote their first essay analyzing literature which was a big deal to them, and that to me was very surprising,” said Aborn. “I did it all wrong, I guess, because I [titled the paper] ‘Stairway,’ and I had this metaphor that went all throughout it and they laughed at me and said that was completely wrong—that’s not how you’re supposed to do it.”
Aborn also said schools in Switzerland differed from schools in the U.S. because all of the students she attended school with were already on a direct track college. 

“In Switzerland they sort of weed out before you get to high school who’s actually going to college, so that decision is already made very early on. All of the students in the high school that I was at were destined for college,” she said. “In the U.S. it’s different because you’re still all together. They have different schools: trade schools, vocational schools, and it’s figured out by grade six whether or not you’re on that track.”

Thus, unlike her peers in Switzerland, for Aborn, going to school in another country during her gap year was an opportunity to let go of some of her earlier focus on academics and spend time getting to know her peers and speaking to them in French. 

“When I was in Switzerland, I saw it as an opportunity to not be the goody two-shoes I was in high school,” she said. “So I wasn’t a model student.” 

Along the way, Aborn also experienced some cultural misunderstandings—often in the classroom. 

“I got in trouble with the teachers because I always had a water bottle in class and they always were telling me that ‘this was not a room of picnic,’” she said. 

After her fall semester, Aborn returned home to Manchester, Vt. to finish out her gap year, where she worked in a shoe store to earn money for college and had a social media internship at a nonprofit. Aborn said it was strange being back at home after graduating from high school and going abroad.

“Everyone in my town thought I had dropped out of college,” she said. “I definitely was interacted with in a different way because I was this person who had graduated high school and was back in town. I very much suffered some odd questions and dirty looks.”

Though she was nervous about returning to rigorous academics after her year was over, Aborn said she was glad she decided to take the year off. 

“I was very much nervous about writing papers again because I hadn’t written a real paper for a long time,” she said. “I was very grateful for my first-year seminar opportunity to write again and really focus on those skills.”

She said the biggest difference she noticed upon arriving at Bowdoin after a gap year was that she had already adjusted to life after high school. She had been away from her high school friends for a year, and grown apart from them more compared to some of her friends who were still more connected. 

“A year out, you talk to the people you want to talk to. But when you go home it’s like you never left,” said Aborn. “I was already at that point, [but] all of my friends here were still very much connected to their high school friends and talking to them throughout their first couple months of college.”

Now a sophomore, Alborn is settled into Bowdoin but has plans to go abroad again next year, this time to France. She will continue her language studies and hopefully become fluent in French.