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After I accepted Harvard’s admission to the Class of 2022 and the excitement died down, my mind started to wander. I knew without a doubt that Harvard was the right place, but was I ready to go to arguably the best university in the world only a few months later?
As all Harvard students can attest to, getting into Harvard is a rigorous and draining process, but getting in is just a small trial compared to actually attending. I’m sure that the resources provided by Harvard would have made the transition and any stress more manageable, but I could feel that the relentless pressures and years of nonstop activities had taken a toll on me. After strong encouragement from all of my siblings, I decided to defer my enrollment for a year. I could feel my stresses for the upcoming fall melt away, and I became excited for all the options I could choose to fill my gap year with.
My sister and brother-in-law were Harvard '13, by brother is Stanford '19, and I am Harvard '23!
Next decision…what did I want out of my gap year and what experiences would help provide me with skills to thrive at Harvard?
As much as I wanted to receive something out of my gap year, I also knew that I wanted to give. Throughout high school I tried to provide services to my community where I saw a need. Now that I had an entire year away from school, I could serve in places outside of my community while immersing myself in other cultures. Being of Mexican descent, but never having visited, this was one of the first places where I knew I wanted to serve. I found a host in Mexico City where I taught English to young children in the Coyoacan District. While there, I visited many districts, and experienced the vibrant and welcoming nature of those living there. Not only did I love teaching English, but speaking only in Spanish for a month and a half made me truly bilingual – so much so that I even started dreaming in Spanish!
While in Mexico, I also visited my relatives in Guanajuato. Here I experienced a simpler way of life, unlike anywhere I have been exposed to. The absence of materialistic stress allowed for mindfulness which made me much more appreciative of the small luxuries (clean drinking water, heating, paved roads) that I had taken for granted in the U.S.
My stay with relatives in a small, rural town in Guanjuato called Manuel Doblado.
The other novel experiences I was fortunate to come across was being an au pair for a family in Italy. For two and a half months I was a “big sister” to their 14-year old daughter.
I was so happy that being in this position enabled me to pass on my knowledge and empower a younger female to go into a STEM-related field.
In my free time, I explored all that Milan has to offer and learned and improved my Italian every day.
Many of Milan's attractions including the Duomo di Milano, Castello Sforzeco, Arco della Pace, Banksy expo at the Mudac Museum, and a shot of the Alps flying into Milan.
In between my trips abroad, I had the opportunity to have a produce design/development externship at Capital One where my older sister works. During this time, I was able to learn so much about product design and development while building workplace skills like working with others and communication.
I also learned about my own interests and what concentration I might be interested in pursuing to achieve certain career paths.
After deciding on a gap year, I must admit that doubt started to creep in. I become worried I would fall behind academically after being gone for a year, I would lose the friends I had made that were entering into Harvard, or that I would ultimately end up regretting my time off. Ultimately, all of these proved untrue. By taking online classes, I continued learning about things I was interested in, and applied skills that I had learned in high school. I was able to keep in touch with friends that are at Harvard now, and I now see that the confidence and maturity I have gained in my time off will allow me to invest in relationships more fully.
I not only gained so much form my year off, but I now feel like I have so much more to offer.
The cultural awareness I had the opportunity to experience in rural, undeveloped Mexico contrasted with the posh lifestyle of the Milanese has enabled me to appreciate the different perspectives that different cultures provide. I have developed a worldly way of thinking that allows me to visualize issues from many different viewpoints, and I cannot wait to share this perspective with the community at Harvard and continue my education this fall!
Author: Andrea Beltran, Class of 2023