Tyler Henry is a USD freshman in the Honors Program. He graduated from high school in 2012, but chose to defer college admission and take a gap year. It’s a chance to step back and explore one’s passion and gain personal life experience. Henry attended a Christian camp program in Hume, Calif. Henry discusses his gap year and how it prepared him for entry into USD.
A gap year is, essentially, a year off from formalized education that people use for various reasons. Some people work, travel, or take part in gap year programs, which is what I opted for after high school graduation in 2012. My gap year experience included participating in a program called the Joshua Wilderness Institute in Hume, Calif., which is located in the Sequoia National Forest. The Joshua Wilderness Institute is a yearlong discipleship program run through Hume Lake Christian Camps and focuses on making ethical leaders for God’s kingdom through living in community, service, and study.
The program consists of 28 guys and 28 girls, who go to Hume Lake to learn, work, eat and travel together. We took independent courses through Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and could receive college credits for the courses depending on which school we would attend after the program concludes. We also had the privilege of speakers talking to us about their areas of specialty, including finances, relationships, culture, mission work, and religion.
We had mentors give us a lot of advice and knowledge about living fulfilling and successful lives. We read lots of books and had follow-up discussions. Authors ranged from C.S. Lewis and Donald Miller to theologians most people probably haven’t heard of, but it was a great way to interact with my friends, gain perspective on the readings and how we could apply this knowledge to our lives.
We also worked on weekends at various jobs such as dining staff, cooks, janitorial staff, program staff, and various other odd jobs that are essential to running the camp. The program provided me vast work skills that are useful for everyday use, current jobs, job experience, and to build my resume.
One of the most exciting aspects, I thought, was the travel. We went locally to serve at other camps and also had international trips throughout the year that engaged us in different cultures. Our international trips included service trips to Mexico, the Dominican Republic and a study tour to Israel.
Meaningful Cultural Experiences
In Mexico we helped fix up the grounds of a deaf school, Rancho Sordo Mudo; in the Dominican Republic we were split up to work at different sites in the medical, construction, social work, and education fields. I worked at a pre-school which was a super great experience because interacting with children and seeing their home life gives you a completely different perspective. They are such hospitable people. It was humbling to be in some of the poorest areas of the country and to walk in to someone’s home, which was usually a shack with metal walls and ceiling, and have them cook for you and offer you anything they could when they had so little. Our tour around Israel consisted of visiting five locations a day and seeing how they correlated to the Bible and its historical significance.
This program was the best experience of my life. It’s taught me so much about myself, others, and God. Every day we’d say a Hebrew prayer, the Sh’ma, that comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear Oh Israel: The Lord is our God the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength.” We’d then tag onto the end what Jesus says, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
We would say prayer in Hebrew and in English, but ultimately it sums up the life lessons I learned in the program. Being dedicated to something bigger than myself I learned more about myself and I was able to practice an introspection that was never a part of my life before the program. When you’re living with so many other people in such close proximity, it’s one the best and hardest things you will go through. People who love and care for you surround you, but one must also face conflict to learn how to get along and grow together.
Better Prepared for College
Besides learning a ton about relationships and community, I also gained a completely new perspective when it came to my studies. I was always the 4.0 and above GPA student who studied like crazy and was so focused on my academic career, but I think not going to college straight out of high school was the best thing for my current college experience.
I’d never taken a class before to learn the information for my own personal growth — it was always about the “A” — but I really learned how to absorb the information and apply it to my life, which was so much more fulfilling. The information I learned changed my life and I could see the growth. Now in college, I don’t focus as much on what my grades are, even though it is still important to me, and I did receive a 4.0 in my first USD semester. I now focus on how much I am actually learning and growing. My education has become much more important than my degree, which has made working toward it so much more fun and interactive.
After taking a gap year, I had many college options available. I chose USD, mostly because of its Living-Learning Communities (LLC), small class size, location, and programs. After going through a community intensive program, the Honors Program LLC — one of nine at USD — was intriguing. To come in and instantly be with a group of people who have some similarity and common interests as me was a huge comfort. To be honest, I was scared because I’d made my best friends in the past year and I had to leave them and begin a completely new adventure. But because USD also stressed living in communities and learning and growing together, that was important.
Adjusting to San Diego, USD
I feel USD has done an amazing job of providing me with professors who are experts on what they teach and they love interacting with their students. I have only been here a semester and have made awesome connections with most of my professors, who are very helpful and are trying to make my future aspirations a reality.
San Diego is closer to home for me, which was important because I had been living farther away during the program. My sister got married while I was in the program, which I was able to attend, and is now pregnant so being closer to home is nice because I will get to be involved with my nephew and family regularly. Even if San Diego is not close to home for you though, the location has so much to offer and is absolutely gorgeous. I miss the pine trees and snow, but I’m spoiled by the sunshine, beach, and gorgeous USD campus.
The USD Honors Program and other activities available to me was the cherry on top of my college choice. I’m grateful to be surrounded on a campus that’s full of distinguished students. Being involved with people where academic success is a priority makes the Honors Program a great experience. I did a “Pre-O” orientation trip through Outdoor Adventures and it was an awesome way to kick off my first year and meet some down-to-earth people in nature, where I enjoy spending my time. They offer awesome trips throughout the year and the staff is well trained and super friendly. I was surprised how intentional they were getting to know us on our trip and it really made my transition a lot easier into college.
Overall, my gap year has really affected everything about my life now and it’s a great way to get to know yourself and what you want to do, gain skills you may want or need in the future. If you are reading this and questioning whether or not you want to take a gap year, I say ‘go for it!’ This is not a year to sit on the couch. It’s about taking full advantage of the time you have and make the most out of the adventures and memories you can make. You never know, you may learn something really cool outside of a classroom.
— Tyler Henry ‘17
Photos courtesy of Tyler Henry