Interview: Gap year


Name: Leon Schwarz

Age: 18

Class: Graduation Class of 2016

Years at GISNY: 3


Q: Deciding what to do with your life after high school is over is hard. How was that experience for you?

For me, this experience was actually quite easy. It was only a matter of time until I realized that going to university right after school wouldn’t be the right thing for me. Traveling was just one out of many options, but it was the best one for me because traveling opens up possibilities you would’ve never had before.


Q: What inspired you to take a gap year?

The most significant aspect of that decision was probably my urge to get to know something new. After spending my whole life in school, I just had to know what the world was like, which is  an experience you will never be able to have in school because you have have to go out into the world and see things on your own instead.

Q: Why New Zealand?

There were many reasons, but the most important one was that I wanted to go as far as possible away from my family, school and friends, in order to learn what it meant to be truly independent. So being on the other side of the world is quite exciting considering that it is the first time to be ‘alone’. Also, nature was quite important to me because that is something that I missed whilst living in ‘the greatest city of the world’.


Q: Saying goodbye is probably the hardest part. How was that experience for you?

Saying goodbye is very difficult, indeed. I had to say goodbye to my father 2 weeks in advance because he was going on a business trip and wouldn’t return until I was already gone. It was an incredibly big step to say goodbye to my family because I have known them for all my life and not seeing them just felt wrong. I also had to say goodbye to my girlfriend, which was very difficult as well. Standing at the airport, I had my first and last doubts about going to New Zealand because I was so worried about how much I would miss the people around me.


Q: What was your first impression?

When I arrived in New Zealand, I was completely overwhelmed because “I really did it!”. There were many emotions, a mixture of pride and happiness was definitely there as well, but the main feeling was just freedom. I finally arrived to the other side of the world and for the first time in my life I could do what I wanted to do and what I felt was right!

Q: Planning such a long trip must have been hard. What was at the top of your list when you started to plan for the trip? Do you have a scheduled plan for your stay?

The top of my list was filled with places, which were supposed to be astonishing, such as nature landscapes and mountains. I was thinking about it quite a lot, I wanted to do stuff that I couldn’t do in Germany or in New York and to see see unique things. I don’t have a scheduled plan anymore though, because sooner or later I just had to accept that planning everything isn’t an option. New Zealand is full of opportunities and if you decline all of them because you have ‘your plan’ then you will never be able to experience the unexpected, which probably is the best part of going on a journey!


Q: Any adventure that you would say you are going to remember for the rest of your life?

Well, the story of my car breaking down in the middle of nowhere will probably stay in my memory for quite some time… But except from that, I think that everything I experience here will find its special place in my memory just because it’s all so different here, the people, the atmosphere, everything. Even smaller things, which might seem non-important to other people will stay in my memory for sure!


Q: New Zealand recently experienced an earthquake. Where were you at that time?

At the time of the earthquake I was actually in my van trying to sleep since it was in the night. I was in Nelson, which is in the north of the South Island. I felt the earthquake quite strongly and first didn’t recognize what it was until it was the only option left. It was scary but very exciting at the same time because I had never experienced such a strong earthquake before! It wasn’t all to crazy though so I just fell asleep after approximately 10 minutes of the ground shaking.

Q: What is your favorite memory/experience so far?

My favorite experience is a hike I did in November. It was just absolutely amazing to see the nature, to breathe in the fresh air, to see the animals in their natural habits and to be aware of the fact that you are one of the few lucky people who got to experience this adventure at that time.


Q: What would you say to anyone who is still trying to decide whether to take a gap year or not?

Take your time.That is the most important thing. You have to think about what you really want and not what your parents or teachers want, but what you want yourself because that’s the only way to achieve happiness. If you can’t wait to study and work then a gap year probably isn’t the right thing for you. But if you don’t want to rush anything or if you are still trying to find out who you are and what you want to do later then a gap year definitely is the right thing for you. You can find your true self and experience life the ‘real way’ so don’t be afraid and do what you feel like doing!


Q: Do you have any recommendations for future backpackers?

Actually, not really. I’ve met so many different kinds of backpackers and everybody has a different personality and story. If I’d give you any recommendation, it would be one, which fits my life and not yours. So maybe, just one general recommendation: Be yourself. This is your time, where you can decide. Why be someone you’re not? Do what feels right, ask when you don’t know what to do and live whenever you can!