Gap year students
For a program like South and Southeast Asian Studies, interest in traveling and different cultures is very important. Therefore we love gap-year students!
Two first year students will share their gap-year experiences in different parts of the world:
Gap year experience in Indonesia
Stella Meerman (first year student SSEAS)
In my sixth year of high school I decided that I didn’t want to go straight to university after I graduated. So I decided to go on exchange with the organization called
AFS. I choose to go with this particular organization because it has an ideology: if students from around the world learn to appreciate each other’s cultures there will be no more war [like the First and Second World War].
At first I was reluctant to choose a non-English speaking country, but eventually I thought if I go I might as well go to a place that is non-western. So I choose to go to Indonesia.
It was, as I had thought, very difficult in the beginning. You get placed into a family you don’t know, who speak a language you don’t know and who have a culture that you don’t understand. But after a time of learning hard and being patient and a lot of smiling and nodding because I had no idea what was going on, I started to see and understand what people were saying and doing.
My host family took me in as if I was their real daughter and I started to really care for these people with their strange language and their strange culture.
After one amazing year I dreaded to go back as I knew I would be homesick to my new family and friends. But it helped me choose which university I wanted to go to, because after this exchange year I became very interested in the region, its history and how it had developed and that’s why South and Southeast Asian Studies was the perfect choice for me.
Gap year experience in India, Nepal and Myanmar
Lichelle Fisser (first year student SSEAS)
My gap year started with a period of confusion. In 2013 I decided to quit my study medicine and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Either start a study in the same field, or do something completely different..? I decided to just take a year off and to figure out what I really wanted to do!
Before this gap year I travelled to many countries in Southeast Asia and I wanted something different. So I decided to go to South Asia for 6 months. I started my trip in Nepal, where I volunteered in a remote area in the Himalaya region where I taught English at a primary school. I stayed in a host family, and this was the first time I was confronted with the Hindu caste system. I stayed in a family who were members of the highest caste, which made it very difficult for me to help with chores in the house. I wasn’t allowed to help cooking or do the dishes, since I couldn’t touch their food or their kitchen utensils. In the first couple of days this sometimes led to very awkward situations, but eventually I was able to adjust and completely submerge myself in their culture. This was when I figured out how amazingly rich the Nepali culture actually is and how open and welcoming the Nepali people are. It was an amazing experiences and definitely one of the highlights of my trip!
I continued my trip in Myanmar, where I encountered a culture that was still very traditional and undiscovered by tourists. This country was so unique, because for me, it was my first time encountering such pure culture. I ended my trip in India, where I spend ten days in a Buddhist Centre to learn about Buddhist philosophy.
After this amazing experience I was sure that I wanted to learn more about this region. I have always been interested in Southeast Asia, since I am half Indonesian myself. But now I know that South Asia is a such an interesting region as well! To study both regions and ancient, as well as modern cultures in the same study seemed absolutely perfect for me.
The pictures on this page were made available by Stella Meerman and Lichelle Fisser.