Sophie Meyers ’17 has had plenty of time to reflect on how her decision to take a gap year affected her Bowdoin experience. 

When Meyers graduated from high school, she said she felt burnt out academically. In order to take a break from the books and try a different kind of learning, she left home to explore other options in Pittsburgh, Pa., Lexington, Mass., Washington, D.C., and even farther away in Costa Rica.

“I’m very into the idea of learning by doing,” she said. “There’s a lot you can learn from the classroom, but there’s so much to learn about the world and yourself by putting yourself in situations where you’re not necessarily comfortable.”

Meyers’ first stop was in Pittsburgh where she joined the Obama campaign. There she worked as an organizing fellow, canvassing, phone banking, and training new volunteers. She even had the opportunity to work at events which featured Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen.
Next, Meyers moved back to her hometown, Lexington, Mass., where she volunteered in Boston at an independent school for students from low-income families. There she helped students prepare to apply to private high schools.
“I was working with eighth graders on applications and trying to get them to dig deeper with essay questions,” she said. 

In the spring, Meyers traveled to Costa Rica, where she lived in a rural village with a host family—a highlight of her gap year. She spent most of her time teaching English and math at an elementary school, but outside of work, she learned how to make empanadas with her host family and immersed herself in its culture.
“That was an unbelievable experience,” Meyers said. “I love the country and I want to go back and visit my host family.”

With her gap year coming to a close, Meyers continued to try new things and moved to Washington, D.C., for ten weeks as an intern for the global trade watch team at Public Citizen, a non-profit organization and think tank that advocates for consumer rights. 

For Meyers, every experience was an opportunity to think about different options and possible careers. 

Meyers felt like she came to some conclusions about her future that she would not have reached if she had gone straight to school.
“It’s nice to have those experiences when I’m thinking about going forward,” she said. “At the end of the Obama campaign, you could have asked me, ‘Do you want to be in politics?’ And I would have said, ‘Yes. Totally.’ But by the time I got back from Costa Rica I had reflected a lot more on that experience, and I think that might not be where I’m headed.”

Brunswick is Meyers’ most recent stop. Many students who take gap years worry about the transition to college life and the possibility of feeling disconnected from their peer but Meyers feels that her transition was fairly smooth.

“I would not have been as comfortable here my freshman year if I hadn’t gone and done my gap year,” she said. “I think I needed that time to regroup, reflect, and think about what I wanted to be like moving forward.” 

Meyers’ transition was also aided by the fact that she kept in touch with some friends from high school who also took gap years.

“Some of them had easy transitions to college, some of them had harder transitions to college. But that was the same with my friends who didn’t take gap years,” she said. “So I think that sort of just depends on the person.”

This year, Meyers plans to declare a major in math and a minor in education. She discovered her love of teaching in Costa Rica and Boston, and it was only when she was reunited with math at Bowdoin she reached her decision to major.
Although Meyers has decided what to study, her gap year experiences have shown her that our futures rarely turn out exactly as we plan. 

“What you’re doing right now doesn’t necessarily dictate what you’re doing five years from now as much as we’re conditioned to think,” said Meyers. 

Next for Meyers, she may study abroad in Edinburgh and see what else she can learn there.