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Taking a break from school could be your smartest move

A photo of the author at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (Joanna Koter/YJI)

Machynlleth, WALES – Interrupting my studies to take on a gap year was one of the most difficult decisions I have made.
However dramatic it sounds, I was petrified of abandoning the one thing I had known – studying – for 12 months of uncertainty. I had a blurry vision of what I would do before returning to university the following year, and was in very poor mental and physical health.
I thought that since I “failed” at such an “obvious” thing as staying in school, my chances of getting anywhere in life were doomed.

Joanna Koter at the Sacre-Coeur, Paris.

How wrong I was!

Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so scared of taking time off if it weren’t for the influence from the outside. Even people closest to me said that I should go to a university, no matter where it is, and not quit it.
Taking a break, they said, would be a waste of a year.

Other people also advised me to continue my education. They argued that the routine and predictability of university life would benefit my mental well-being.
Apparently, they had not considered that my mental well-being would be fine if being at university weren’t so stressful.
If I hadn’t felt so unstable at the time, maybe I would’ve gone back. But I didn’t, and I don’t regret it at all.

Since September, I’ve done a lot of great things. And even though I wouldn’t necessarily put them on my resume, they were worth my time.
I learned how to make proper coffee by working at one of the best cafes in town. I also worked as a “mobile sandwich salesperson” (though it was just for two days, and I don’t think my parents know about this). I went to Paris and saw the Sacré-Cœur and the Centre Pompidou and had roasted chestnuts at Champs-Élysées.

In September, the author went to Paris and met her favorite singer-songwriter, Lewis Watson.

I interned in Warsaw at a magazine that I was obsessed with for the last three years – it was a proper journalist experience.
I registered as a blood marrow donor.
Finally, I spent Christmas in Britain for the first time and afterwards went to Wales – also for the first time – to volunteer in the gardens of the Centre for Alternative Technology, the mecca of sustainability and anything green.

I ended up loving life, and although it comes with its ups and downs every day, it feels okay. I’m healthier, too.
If I hadn’t learned not to take life so seriously, I would’ve given up. But I didn’t, and all this good stuff happened.

If I could’ve changed one thing, I would now travel back in time and tell the summer 2017 me not to be so scared and take life as it is. We all have to make choices every day, whether serious or silly, and sometimes we’re terrified of this when our decision comes with unpredictability. But whatever the choice is, it is important that we make it.
To all people hanging in between whether to take a break from their “regular life”, I say – go for it. You don’t know what will happen, and the chances are you will do something epic. This is what I wish someone said to me nine months ago.

Joanna Koter is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

Joanna Koter planting trees in Glen Nevis, near Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland.

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