California native and EF Gap Semester alum Espi O. shares insights from her experience abroad: her gap began with two weeks of Guided Exploration in Europe, then four weeks of Language & Culture in Berlin, Germany, followed by four weeks of Service & Sustainability in Thailand, and one week of Wrap-Up in Portugal.
What motivated you to take a gap?
“After learning Norwegian at the age of 14, I was introduced to the idea of taking a gap, which is far more common in Western Europe, and immediately made it part of my graduation plan. Going through quarantine encouraged me even more to take a gap that involved traveling because I saw how international restrictions could change in the blink of a minute. I didn’t want to wait for a milestone like graduating college or retiring to explore—plus, I knew that while things could easily change on an international level, school wasn’t going anywhere.”
Had you traveled prior to traveling with EF?
“Yes, my mom and I love to travel! Before my EF Gap Semester I had been to Mexico, Peru, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Central African Republic, Kenya, and Guatemala.”
What were you most looking forward to before your program began?
“I was most excited to learn languages on the trip: it would be my first time getting to practice French, Dutch, and German in their native countries, and I was looking forward to those experiences.”
What was the most rewarding part of your Gap Semester abroad?
“The most rewarding part of the trip was getting comfortable with being flexible and spontaneous. As a perfectionist, I would usually want to have everything go a certain way and be meticulously planned out in order to be comfortable—going on my gap allowed me to break out of this pattern and embrace spontaneity."
Did you attend any optional excursions? If so, which ones? What was that like?
“I did a few... my absolute favorite was the Cabaret in Paris! It was a one-of-a-kind experience and, as a dancer, I feel like it was even more meaningful to see such an amazing performance. I also did an optional canal cruise in Amsterdam that I still think about on a regular basis; I learned so much about the history of the city on that tour and it was just a really fun bonding activity.”
Did you do any independent travel during your Gap Semester? If so, where to?
“I took two independent trips during my language module: one to Munich and another to Switzerland, to Zurich and Lucerne.”
And did you experience culture shock? If so, when? What was it like?
“I experienced slight culture shock during random moments, but overall, things never felt that foreign. The one thing that genuinely threw me off was not understanding how to use Swiss and German bathrooms! The facilities were very different from what I had seen, so my friends and I spent a long time just confusedly laughing in the bathrooms. Though it makes more sense, I was also a little surprised to see that Pharmacies were purely medical in other countries.”
Did you experience homesickness?
“I didn't really experience any homesickness on my trip; I think if anything, I would struggle with missing a place when we left for the next part of the trip! It was especially difficult going from Berlin to Thailand. I think it helped to assure myself that the new place I was in was worth getting to know too, and that I could always go back if I really wanted.”
How did your identity or sense of self change while you were abroad? How was it reinforced?
“Going abroad truly allowed me to detach my identity from academic performance and get in touch with my creative side. I feel like this was best reinforced in Thailand because we had such a great ‘work-life balance’ with our service-learning schedule, and we used our free time to just learn more about ourselves and each other.”
What does “global perspective” mean to you, in the context of a gap experience?
“To me, a global perspective describes being well-rounded and aware of the vast array of cultures and the way they can impact the world around us and the way we view things.”
What was your favorite memory from or part of being on-program?
“One of my favorite memories was bonding with our group when we reunited in Thailand; after a month of being [apart during] our separate Language & Culture modules, we all spent the second night in Thailand together and had, what I would call, the most fun we had as a big group. [Because it was] Halloween in the States, many people got dressed up and we went to the lounge at the top of a skyscraper where we saw an amazing view of Bangkok and spent the night catching up.”
Where’s one place from your Gap Semester you want to go back to?
“I would love to go back to Thailand for a while and just live there. There’s so much that I still wanted to explore, and I would love to do more service learning if I ever went back. I’d also want to go back to Berlin and Amsterdam just to see more, or even live in either city. Berlin just felt instantly like home once we arrived; I was so comfortable there and truly could see myself staying long-term!”
When you travel next, where do you hope to go?
“I have a trip planned to South America because I've always wanted to do more exploring after having traveled to Peru; I'll be going to Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil and meeting up with some friends I made during my EF Gap Semester.”
We wish Espi a safe and wonderful adventure in South America—and as for her next adventure? Beginning her studies as a first-year student at Howard University, majoring in International Affairs with a minor in Community Development!