May 14, 2022
After the fifth article that MVHS Alum ‘20 Hannah Lee’s sister sent her about all the things she could possibly do by taking a gap year — this one about swimming with the sea turtles — Lee left her on read once again, still not convinced that it would be the right choice for her. Despite all the programs and opportunities that taking a year off could yield, Lee was scared about being set back a year at Stanford, the school she had committed to. She feared that “everything would be misaligned,” and wasn’t ready to ignore the “societal pressure that after high school [it immediately] should be college.” Until the very end of July 2020, Lee was prepared to make the leap from high school to college, following the “normal” path that so many of her friends would go on.
But in July, as the start of the Stanford school year neared and Lee started actually imagining herself at the school, she grew nervous about the prospect of being thrown back into a fast-paced academic environment, similar to her high school experience. With the added factor of tuition — $80,000 a year — which didn’t decrease despite Stanford having remote learning at the time due to COVID-19, Lee spontaneously made the decision to take a gap year.
“Even to this day, I’m surprised at myself that I made that decision,” Lee said. “I was feeling so nervous about the fact that there was one month left, and I was like, ‘Oh God, I really have to go to school. I really have to start college, and I still feel like I’m a high schooler, and I’m not ready for that. I’ve just done so much school., I’m a little burned out.’ I guess that was the point where I was like, ‘Whatever. Let’s go for it.’”
Lee says that although the deadline to take a gap year had passed, she expressed how much she “needed a gap year,” and luckily was allowed to take one. She didn’t have any definite plans for how she would spend the year, maybe watching TV at home or traveling, but she knew she wasn’t ready for college just yet. But at the end of September, the “stars aligned” for Lee when the CEO of Collab Asia, a company managing media platforms for content creators, reached out with the offer of an internship after seeing her background working in K-Pop. And a month later, she was on a flight to Korea.
For the next few months, Lee managed YouTube channels for K-Pop artists and groups and came up with marketing strategies. She later worked more closely with these artists, meeting with CEOs of various companies and pitching marketing plans about how to expand K-Pop to different audiences. After her time in Korea, she completed an immersion program in Spain where she had the opportunity to “refresh [her] AP Spanish skills” and then completed her gap year with a vacation in Paris.
However, she says that if given the opportunity to do it again, there are some things she would have done differently.
“One thing I regret about my gap year is taking a gap year and then not spending time on myself,” Lee said. “Especially towards the beginning of my gap year, I basically just worked and I was super stressed all the time. I never made any time for myself. I kind of wish I took maybe three months in the middle to do nothing, and I think it’s really hard to do nothing especially after spending so much time grinding. It’s still something I’m trying to practice. But if you take a gap year, take some time to do nothing, because high school is so stressful. It’s so much of go, go go, and you don’t realize it until you finish and you’re just burned out. I do think it’s important to just be.”
After spending so much time being independent and strengthening her skills as an entrepreneur, Lee explains that after her gap year, she was reluctant to be confined to a classroom and grades at college. But after a “really long period of convincing” from her parents, Lee agreed to give Stanford a try, and realized that her gap year and newfound independence had given her clarification on how she wanted to approach her future in college.
“[I’m] not necessarily as focused on the stereotypical mindset of ‘I have to study this. I have to remember this for a test. I have to pass the class,’” Lee said. “I will admit it’s very, very hard to break out of [that mindset], but I have been trying to make my experience here more like meeting new people, making connections [and] socializing. And also taking more risks, so dropping classes when I’m not interested in them, switching majors, things like that.”
Even though Lee says she finds some of the classes that she needs to fulfill her major requirements “unnecessary,” she doesn’t regret her decision to return to Stanford because of all the people she’s met. These people, she says, “really make the experience,” and the eagerness that everyone on campus shared at the start of the school year means that Lee didn’t feel a separation from them despite having taken a gap year. She also found that she fit in academically, because the study culture she had developed at MVHS carried over to her time at Stanford, making her experience with handling academic rigor easier. Because of the skills and knowledge Lee developed over her gap year, and the seamless transition back into academic life, she urges MVHS students to seriously consider taking a gap year.
“I know what it feels like to be in that position,” Lee said. “I also told myself, ‘Don’t take a gap year. You’re going to be behind. All of your plans are going to fall apart.’ And there’s also this conception that if you take a gap year, you’re not following society’s footsteps. But in my experience, it just really helped me to mature a lot [and] learn things I didn’t learn in school. If life and people were verbs, I would say it helped me to life and it helped me to people, and I think that was really valuable, especially with coming to school and learning to socialize and make connections and deal with adult things. Obviously, [coming to school] is really hard, and it’s really stressful. But I think it’s very worth taking a break and kind of rewinding because you really do deserve it.”