Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 2
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Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
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Online Editor: Laura Tiffany

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Editor: Mark Wood
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Before Pomona / Gap Year
A Special Year

By Laura Tiffany

On a year-long jaunt to Beijing on a fellowship, Julius Taranto took advanced classes in Mandarin Chinese while working for an environmental NGO and then a law firm. He blogged for NBC’s Olympic site about happenings in the city, and then joined the action as a translator during the games. Somehow, he also found three weeks to backpack through Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

This wouldn’t be a shabby overseas experience by any Sagehen standard, but Taranto, Class of 2012, did all this on a “gap year” taken before his first semester of college. The experience has helped him to focus and make the most of his time in college. “I got here, and was able to say honestly that I waited a year to take some of these classes,” says Taranto. “It seems that most people don’t appreciate their education except in retrospect, and getting to the ‘real world’ early, on a gap year, is a good way to enjoy and appreciate college while still in it.”

A handful of incoming first-year students hold off on starting school each year, according to Dean of Admissions Bruce Poch. “In some cases, unique opportunities have surfaced, which clearly fall into the ‘once in a lifetime’ category,” says Poch, citing the experience of Gabriel London ’00, who as an intern in the White House during the Clinton years wrote a speech for the president during the federal government shutdown of 1995.

“The stories brought back to campus are often quite stunning, and the growth for many of the students is valuable and can bring great perspective to their undergraduate interests,” says Poch.

Common in the United Kingdom and Australia, gap years are gaining increasing acceptance in the U.S., says Holly Bull, president of gap-year consulting firm The Center for Interim Programs. Gap year fairs are held at high schools, and universities are welcoming the idea of more mature, responsible first-year students. “They know it’s not just a year off or a vacation; it’s something of value and colleges are publicly recognizing this,” says Bull.

Micah Berman ’13 chose to stick a little closer to home for his gap year, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in Clarksdale, Mississippi., “After almost exactly two months in the Delta, I am totally sure I made the right decision,” says Berman, who tells of experiences ranging from sleeping on the floor of unfurnished houses to protect the copper wiring from theft to finding out the hard way that there’s lye in cement. “Everyone here has a story, everyone is connected and everyone wants to share,” says Berman. “I think I’m learning so many of life’s big lessons in a way that I could learn nowhere else.”

Rose Comaduran ’12 found a slice of home—in meeting some family members for the first time—while spending the first half of her year studying Spanish language and literature in Oaxaca. “I’m half Mexican, and I got to meet a bunch of family members for the first time while I was there,” says Comaduran, who then went to Peru, volunteering at an orphanage and teaching English.

“I was always very involved and busy in high school,” says Comaduran. “And I wanted to take a break from academics to be more spontaneous and explore other things in life.” Maria Whittle ’12 also wanted to distance herself from the academic grind before entering college. She applied for the Rotary Exchange Program, which appealed to her “due to its low costs and its spirit of volunteerism,” explains Whittle. She lived in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia, accessible only by a nine-hour plane ride from Moscow, for nine months with two host families, attending high school and enjoying full immersion in the language she studied throughout high school.

“Culture shock and homesickness made my first months in Russia difficult, but the people I met and the things I learned while I was away made this difficulty well worth it. I doubt I will ever again have the chance to spend a year just talking to people and absorbing the culture the way I was able to last year,” says Whittle, whose host families took her on cultural excursions and camping trips, and even made a special meal to help her celebrate Thanksgiving.

“Living on my own helped prepare me a lot for college life. [It] taught me how to be self-sufficient and manage my own expenses, to learn to deal with a lot of situations independently and on instinct,” says Whittle. “I feel I am much more self confident and self sufficient than I was before simply because I had to be last year.”

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