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Fun, Work, Growth, and Midnight Cooking: My Gap Year at Dynamy

September, 2014
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eric-lee-2When I graduated from High School last year, I thought college was the both the logical and perfect next step for me. Looking back one year later, I now know for a fact that it definitely was one of my worst options. College isn’t the best choice for everyone, at least at first.

I took a gap year instead of going to college for several reasons. I graduated when I was 16, making me two years younger than most beginning freshmen. I had changed my career goals three times in High School, most recently in senior year. Most importantly, I was not sure that I would excel in college, which is essential since I planned to go to medical school (still do!). So, instead of setting off to college with all these uncertainties hanging over my head, I decided to take a gap year to smooth things over and make sure I hit the ground running.

However, it wasn’t such an easy decision. My initial reaction to the idea of a gap year, which I’m sure is similar to most High School students’, was absolutely not. “I want to go to college and be on my own. I don’t want to be left in the dust when all my friends have started their freshman year – that’d be embarrassing!”

I changed my opinion after I came to two realizations. First, a year is nothing. Even after graduating from High School, it’s important to remember that we’re teenagers; we can afford to delay a year with almost no significant repercussions. There is honestly no hurry. Second, a gap year can be anything. For me, the beauty of a gap year was that I could choose to do whatever I wanted to, within reason. The decision to make it structured and intense or flexible and relaxed fell on my shoulders, but so did the outcome. A gap year is as meaningful as the effort and planning you put into it.

There were many ways I could have planned a gap year, to make an informed decision my family hired an education consultant from Team Education for assistance. With their help, I found numerous possibilities for a gap year, from spending months in the Rocky Mountains to going overseas on service trips. In the end, I decided to spend my gap year on Dynamy’s Internship Year.

eric-lee-1Dynamy is located near Worcester, Massachusetts, an hour away from Boston; it is most well known for being one of the first organizations to offer a gap year program for High School graduates and even college students. While a major component, internships are but a part of Dynamy’s Internship Year; one of the first things I had to do at Dynamy was the Adventure Challenge, a ten-day hiking and canoeing trip in Vermont. Throughout my year at Dynamy, I was given opportunities to make close friends, engage in community service, and take college courses. I was able to work hands-on in a career field of my interest, experience how to take care of myself on my own, learn to network, and, most importantly, grow as a person.

Dynamy’s internship year consists of fall, winter, and spring trimesters. Students must change internships at least once, doing a minimum of two different internships and a maximum of three. I was free to set up my own work schedule at my internships as long as I got at least 28 hours signed off on my timesheets by the end of the week. Initially, my advisor essentially provided me the internships, but by the end of the year I learned to search for contacts, set up interviews, and secure positions by myself.

At first, Worcester seemed small in both size and opportunities thanks to Shanghai spoiling me, but there are actually countless businesses and organizations in Worcester that are surprisingly receptive to having an intern. In one year, I interned at WCCA TV’s broadcast station, Acupuncture Associates of Worcester, Cosmetic Dermatology Worcester, and with Scott Fair, an independent film producer. Finding an internship was never a real problem, whether for a specific career field or just to explore my interests.

eric-lee-dynamyWhile none of my internships inspired a change of career path for me, each and every one of them was a valuable experience for me. I learned more than the basics of a profession; I learned the importance of dedication and hard work. I worked with many wonderful and remarkable people last year, and each of them was a source of wisdom from which I learned about work, society, and life.

Living at Dynamy felt like living in an apartment with similar-age, same-sex (by floor) peers. I had to cook my own meals, clean parts of the apartment once a week, and manage a 100-dollar weekly stipend. Overall, I felt there was a good balance of rules and freedom; while there were rules of cleanliness and conduct, I basically had full control over how I lived my life at Dynamy.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before I chose to exercise the limits of that freedom and made some bad choices. Once, I ate microwave breakfast sandwiches for every meal of the day, and this one time (or… six), I slept at a ridiculously late hour on a work night. I suffered consequences afterwards (such as experiencing my first migraine), but looking back, I can honestly say that I don’t regret any of it. Now I know how much stress my body can handle and how much is too much.

For those who worry about this degree of freedom (probably parents), the fact is that the opportunity to engage in these small indulgences (sleeping late, eating unhealthily) or, for that matter, worse vices (alcohol, drugs), are everywhere, not just at Dynamy. They’ll be there in college, too, and life afterwards as well. But thanks to my time at Dynamy, I’ve figured out my limits and boundaries before I’ve even set foot in college, where my performance is actually put on a permanent record. Personally, I never felt any pressure to partake in drinking or smoking, and from what I heard from friends, marijuana and alcohol were only as present in a student’s life at Dynamy as she or he makes them to be - that is to say, possibly nonexistent outside of the rumors.

On a brighter note, I also learned what I am capable of, like cooking tasty pasta meals instead of microwaving macaroni and cheese! Even more useful for college, I’ve also learned to accept that some people simply can’t/won’t change the way they or their room smells! But in all seriousness, I’ve become more responsible in taking care of myself and more mature in living with others. In college, I am certain that my room will be decently organized, my relationship with roommate friendly, and my body and mind healthy.

There was a point in the fall trimester when I considered withdrawing from Dynamy in the winter. My college friends seemed to be learning new things every day, and my new internship had lost its novelty. It was a rough patch for me at Dynamy, but I came to recognize that, for the past twelve years (the majority of my life), I was a student. Academia was my home, so when I was placed into a work environment instead of a classroom, I was uncomfortable.

I was learning every day as well, just in a way that I wasn’t familiar with. Instead of being provided to me in the clear form of books or lectures, knowledge was between the hours that I worked, in the words I exchanged with people, and behind the unfamiliar freedom I had to control my life. I learned to be perceptive, motivated, and self-assured; I learned to make the most out of every day because no one was going to do it for me.

Thanks to my gap year, I am unafraid and more prepared than ever for the next stage of my life.

 

By Eric Lee

Photos by Anna Condon and Kathy Cheng

 

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