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What I Learned On My Service Gap Year

Sam Nesin-Perna is from Newton, Massachusetts. He attends Hobart & William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.

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Q: What did you do for your gap year?

Nesnin-Perna: From September 2016 to May 2017, I was a City Year volunteer with AmeriCorps. I worked in a third-grade classroom in an under-resourced elementary school in South Boston. We helped kids with math, English, behavioral and attendance support. We ran an after school program that included a homework session and academic enrichment lessons. We cooked with the kids and played games. The kids’ energy helped me go forward with my days, bringing me lots of joy. I realized later that I had a positive effect on them, too.

Q: How did you find this opportunity?

Nesnin-Perna: I gained a lot of confidence when I spent the summer after my junior year hiking along the Wind River in Wyoming with an outdoor education program. My dad said, ‘Why not do another year of something unique before college?’ He suggested City Year, and I decided to do it because I had gotten so much out of the hiking experience.

Q: How did you fund your living expenses for the year?

Nesnin-Perna: I lived at home. People in my program were paid about $12,000 ($440 every two weeks) and given food stamps. I would not say it’s easy to do if you are not living at home. I spent half of the money and I saved the rest for college.

Q: How did you grow from your gap year experience?

Nesnin-Perna: I really learned a lot about kids and I learned how to be assertive. I also learned how to be in a workplace environment. When I got to college and had a professor who was really strict, I was able to connect to her with her because I already knew how to work with people, instead of against them. I just finished my first year at college. I was on a pre-med track, but I want to switch to psychology. Through City Year, I realized I’d rather be an advocate that helps the same kids for three to five years instead of seeing 100 patients a week.

Want to take a gap year? This could be how:

Q: What advice would you give to other students considering a gap year?

Nesnin-Perna: I would recommend doing something completely different; don’t just get a job at your local grocery store. You can find a program with a scholarship. Do something that’s hard but not totally out of your comfort zone. Doing something selfless really gave me perspective. Now I realize the value of getting an education.

Nancy Schatz Alton is the co-author of two holistic health care guides, The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. She lives in Seattle with her husband, a teen, a tween, and two Havanese dogs. For more, check her blog or Facebook

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