What Happens When Your Gap Year Becomes Your Reality

When I decided to take a gap year after college, everyone had an opinion. My professors told me that moving to Argentina was exactly what I should do before embarking on that elusive “career path”—whatever it ended up being. My parents were enthusiastic about the independence and enriched view of the world I would gain, and my friends talked about the adventures I would have and the fun things I would do before entering the “real world.” I agreed with them. I was excited to take a break from my scheduled, familiar life at college before returning to the US in a year’s time to resume real life.

Moving to another country is freeing. In my case, I got to master a new language, meet new people, and enjoy the novelty of being a foreigner. I even dreamt of feeling worldly by saying “I lived in Argentina for year” when I returned home.

Living abroad is exciting, but what no one tells you is that this experience could become more than a blip in your climb towards your long term goals. No one tells you that it’s really, really hard. And no one tells you that once you’ve put in all the effort to overcome culture shock and integrate yourself into a new place and culture, you might just decide to stay.

The Princeton Review defines a gap year as “a year spent taking time off between life stages,” but what if that experience abroad becomes your next life stage? Every piece of advice or encouragement comes with the assumption that it will be just that—a single year.

After spending half of my junior year of college in Buenos Aires and a summer researching in the same city, it seemed like a logical plan to spend the year following graduation in Argentina. I imagined it would be structured like any other year of my academic-centric life—an itinerary of sorts with fixed start and end dates.

I knew my year abroad wouldn’t be easy, but I was eager for a new challenge. I would be teaching English, and had done my research—hours and hours of Googling, reaching out to current teachers, and scouring ESL teaching forums. After four years of academic challenges at a small liberal arts college, I yearned for something new: I yearned for uncertainty.

I started out just as planned, easily finding a job teaching business English students through an agency. I enjoyed being an independent woman living in a foreign city. I remember reveling in novelties like staying out until 11pm and getting empanadas on the way home because I was an independent college graduate and no one could tell me when to be home for dinner. The temporary-ness of living in Argentina made it thrilling, like binging on chocolate the day before starting a strict diet.

But then two things happened: I found a journalism internship and I met my boyfriend, Víctor. The first showed me that writing could be more than a blogging pastime—it could be a career. The second became my salsa partner, taught me how to use a gas oven, and introduced me to the world of Peruvian cooking. Neither my relationship nor my writing job were overly serious, but I wanted to give both a chance to bud and grow.

I wanted to stay for the cooks at the old empanada shop on the corner that waved at me when I walked by and invited me in for empanadas in exchange for my teaching their daughters English. I wanted to keep working with the students I met with each week and marveling at their progress week after week. And above all I wanted to keep writing about the crazy things that happen in this city every day.

With these bonds in mind, I felt an overwhelming relief when I discovered that I didn’t have to leave this country. After 22 years of life dictated by academic and societal expectations, I did the unthinkable and set my own calendar.

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I made my transition from unanchored traveler to a part of the community by signing up for classes and activities that would both broaden my interests and experiences and introduce me to people who would become my closest friends. I started a trapeze class, joined a running group, and found a CrossFit gym near my house, bringing my passion for sports from my “old” life into my new one.

Because of the enriching and transformative experiences I’ve had in Argentina, I no longer consider my time in this place as break from real life. Rather, this is my life. I may not stay in Buenos Aires forever, but I will never consider my experiences as a “gap” before real life begins.

I went on a short weekend trip to Montevideo, Uruguay a few weeks ago, and as I sat on the early morning ferry on the way back to Buenos Aires, I found myself looking at the city approaching from across the river and thinking, I can’t wait to be home.

About Annie

AnnieBacher HeadshotAnnie lives in Argentina, but grew up in a small New Hampshire town where the most exciting weekend activity was a trip to the local Target. Even though her family only moved there five years ago, she likes to say she’s from Santa Cruz, California because she identifies with the almond-milk drinking, surfing, yoga-ing culture, and because nobody in Argentina has ever heard of New Hampshire. She’s lived in Buenos Aires for more than two years, and has fallen in love with the practice of sitting and talking for hours while sipping on wine or café con leche. Her energy and annoyingly positive attitude come from the insane amount of fruits, vegetables, and delicious grilled Argentine meats she consumes. She works as a copywriter, and spends her free time taking trapeze classes, running, CrossFitting, eating, and writing about it all. Check out more of her work at www.anniebacher.com.

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