In Praise of an Extra SemesterConnie Lissner
I can’t believe it’s already February. I left home more than 160 days ago, and it still feels surreal that I'm entering the second half of my gap year in Norway.
It's been an amazing adventure so far. Every new chapter of my life here unlocks unexpected joys and challenges. I've learned so much about the importance of tenacity and perseverance, and have discovered a strength and independence in myself that I never would have if I'd decided not to come. Waking up every morning, I gaze up at the rocky slopes of Ulriken, the tallest mountain of the seven that surround Bergen, and am so thankful for each day I get to spend in this beautifully unique place.
When I stepped onto the plane back in August, I know you had your doubts, and so did I. I had only ever called one place home, and as I prepared to leave that home behind for an entire year I tried to remain optimistic and not dwell on my fears. You and I have always had a close bond, because we are alike in many ways, and you’ve never hesitated to give me the extra shove I sometimes needed to reach my full potential or take the less easy route. Even though this time I was the one charging forward into the unknown and you were trying to hold me back from the edge, I never doubted that you would support me as you always have. Even with the distance between us, I don’t feel that our relationship has weakened — if anything, we’ve grown closer.
I am very glad I did step onto the plane that day; in the short space of five months, I have seen myself grow and mature in so many ways. Reawakened now is that adventurous spirit which, while always within me somewhere, had lain dormant for so long. I’ve come to realize the responsibilities that go along with independence as well as the benefits, and learned how to manage my money wisely, organize meals, work with difficult people, and take it in stride when things don’t go as planned.
Mom, even though I still miss you every day, I hope you realize how much this year has given to me, even if it took me a long, long way from home. I could never have done this without your love and support.
More than anything, moving away from home helped me recognize all that you do and appreciate you infinitely more. Growing up, I, like many children, thought that food appeared on the table somewhat magically, not taking into account the effort it takes to plan meals, shop and cook every day for a family of five (not to mention cleaning up!). I wish I’d kept quiet instead of complaining about what was for dinner, or offered to help more; I hope you can forgive me for that. I am honestly in awe of how you manage to do it all, and am grateful that this year has forced me to take on household responsibilities for myself.
Thankfully, I have not had to walk my gap year path (or do the dishes) all alone. I’m grateful for my amazing boyfriend, Tommy, who supports and encourages me, and for his family, who have taken me in as one of their own. They’ve helped me keep homesickness at bay, though it still creeps in from time to time. It can be as small as wishing that the grocery stores here stocked vanilla extract (which is seen as an exotic ingredient) or missing the famous Boulder sunshine as Bergen enters its tenth consecutive rainy day. Sometimes I wish I could just walk into your room and tell you what’s bothering me, or go to the movies with my high school friends.
Even so, this year has afforded me so many unique and wonderful opportunities. I have driven through a landscape unlike any other in the world, past dozens of fjords and hundreds of waterfalls. I hiked across three peaks in a single day, drank water from the purest mountain lake with my hands, and watched the sun rise from the mountains and set in the ocean. I am learning more Norwegian so I can speak with my boyfriend, his family and our friends, ensuring that when I walk away from this year I’ll carry a piece of Norway with me. I got to attend a Norwegian julebord, where I sampled a traditional Norwegian Christmas meal. Tommy and I have plans to ski at Voss (the place the fancy water comes from!) later this season. I have travelled to four different countries with plans to visit many more.
Taking a break from school has also allowed me to focus on a personal project I’ve been yearning to undertake: a novel! I have always been passionate about creative writing and now can pour time into this project. The manuscript is 70,000 words long and still going strong.
So, Mom, even though I still miss you every day, I hope you realize how much this year has given to me, even if it took me a long, long way from home. I could never have done this without your love and support, and am immensely grateful that I get to have this experience and create these unforgettable memories. I am so excited for you to visit and to be able to include you in them.
Grace graduated high school in May, 2016 and has had a passion for writing since she was little. Her creative endeavors have yielded two novels, several short stories, and a nauseating number of college essays. Her own experience applying to ten universities senior year gave her an enlightened perspective on the college process and the ups and downs that go with it. Her gap year now concluded, she is a first-year student at George Washington University. Read her first gap year essay here, and don't miss her mother's perspective: "What my daughter's gap year taught me."