When most people think of enjoyable gap years, they likely do not picture working 12 hour shifts, six days a week. That is exactly what first year Harry DiPrinzio envisioned, however.

In the year before coming to Bowdoin, DiPrinzio spent his time working in restaurants in New York City and Paris. In September, he began by working at New York’s Michelin star-winning Gramercy Tavern.

Having long been a fan of cooking and gastronomy, DiPrinzio had always planned to work in a restaurant before college. 

“I worked in restaurants in the two summers during high school and I think at some point during junior year I realized that I could [take a gap year] and basically just started thinking about it,” he said. 

At Gramercy he was an extern—a position often filled by culinary school students fulfilling their on-site hours.

“I put away produce,” said DiPrinzio. “They get thousands of pounds of produce a day and it all has to be put away and sorted, so I started doing that.”

As time went on, DiPrinzio worked his way up Gramercy Tavern’s ladder. He started helping out at lunch service by performing tasks such as shucking oysters and slicing bread. Soon after, DiPrinzio was able to secure a spot on the cold appetizer station during weekend shifts. 

“The days were action packed,” said DiPrinzio. “I was always running around and incredibly tired and adrenaline filled.” 

During his time at Gramercy, DiPrinzio lived at his home. However, he knew he wanted to gain a more international experience during his year. That January, he accepted an opportunity to work at a Parisian restaurant.

“There was a chef in Paris who had worked at Gramercy and the chef at Gramercy sent me to the Paris guy and said, ‘He wants to go to Paris,’” he said.

DiPrinzio was able to spend his whole time in France—about two and a half months—at the same restaurant after taking the spot of a recently hired employee who left. 

During his time in Paris DiPrinzio was able to explore, but it was often difficult. He worked 16 hour days five days a week while also trying to figure out his surroundings.

“Just being alone in Paris was definitely a different scenario,” said DiPrinzio.

Perhaps one of his biggest struggles was finding a place to live. After staying with a friend for a few days, he began to search for a place to live more independently. Eventually, he ended up renting a room in a couple’s home. 

“I messaged all these people and some of them got back to me. I went and visited one of them and it was like the biggest shithole ever,” he said.  “[But] this one seemed nice. It was in a really nice neighbourhood. They were friendly, but the kind of dynamic was weird. The reason I was living in their lives was because they needed more money. They kind of resented me.”

After returning from Paris, DiPrinzio was ready for what lay ahead. Some students may find adjusting back to an academic life difficult after a gap year. DiPrinzio, however, said he has not struggled very much in his first year at Bowdoin.

“I wasn’t around people last year, so it’s nice to be with people my age again and it’s been nice to go back to school and take classes.”

DiPrinzio’s year between high school and college was a preview of life in the real world. While he encountered challenges—from being by far the youngest employee at Gramercy Tavern to navigating the Parisian apartment market—he says it was a valuable experience.

“It was great because I felt like I was living real life and I basically had a job,” he said.

Editor’s note: Harry DiPrinzio is a member of the Orient staff