Students gain experience from gap year Trips

Every student before their freshman year of college reaches that point where they feel they might not be ready for college. Most students ignore the doubts and move on to college, but a few decide they need a gap year to feel ready. Freshmen Ben Niesen and Anna Hurwitz took gap years to travel and to volunteer. Niesen joined AmeriCorps for 10 months, and Hurwitz backpacked across Europe then volunteered in Costa Rica.

Niesen applied to Linfield before he joined AmeriCorps and he was admitted. Linfield agreed to let him attend a year later if he was accepted into AmeriCorps.

“I immediately got cold feet and was worried that I wasn’t ready for college,” Niesen said. “So what I did was sign up for a program that was 10 times more difficult than college.”

Niesen’s 10 months in AmeriCorps were spent volunteering at four different sites.

“I was placed on a team of 11 people. We were essentially employees of the national government,” Niesen said. “You had to roll with the punches and go with what you were given.”

Most of the participants in Niesen’s section of AmeriCorps were 18 to 24 year old. The first site Niesen worked with his team, Blue Unit Team Seven, was Salton Sea in Southern California. They left for the project Nov. 10, 2012 Niesen and his team worked there for five

weeks on park maintenance. After their service there, the team received their winter break.

The next site the Niesen worked at was Sly Park near Lake Tahoe where Niesen and his team worked with children.

“We were meant to be sort of their chauffeurs or camp counselors,” Niesen said.

From Sly Park, Niesen was sent to work with a different team, Silver 2, working two miles out of Boise for a month putting up a fence.

The second site that Niesen worked at with Silver 2 was at Hell’s Canyon. At one point, Niesen almost got lost because he couldn’t stop taking pictures of the site.

Finally, Niesen returned to Blue seven to finish up in Sheridan, Wyo. He worked with Habitat for Humanity for five weeks.

After taking three weeks to graduated from AmeriCorps and receiving his education scholarship awards, Niesen felt ready to come to Linfield.

“Well, because AmeriCorps was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, [college] is nothing,” Niesen said. “It definitely helped me with my time management skills. I still procrastinate. I’m not going to lie, but there’s for me now a seeming willingness to just get it done.”

Hurwitz’s gap year experience was different from Niesen’s but no less formative. First, she backpacked through Europe for six weeks with her friend Naomi Tarling, and after, she volunteered in Costa Rica for two and a half months.

During her senior year, Hurwitz applied to a few schools, but she withdrew all her applications before she heard back.

“I knew that I wasn’t ready to go off to school,” Hurwitz said. “A friend and I just kind of on a whim thought, ‘Let’s go see something. Let’s do something.’”

On their trip to Europe, Tarling and Hurwitz visited 10 different countries, beginning and ending in Switzerland, where Tarling’s uncle lived. The 10 countries they visited were  Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic and

finally Hungary.

“I bought my tickets a month before we left,” Hurwitz said. “We bought [travel] books and just kind of planned as we went.”

Hurwitz’s favorite city in Europe was Amsterdam, Holland.

“It felt like a combination city, as far as old world Europe and kind of an up and coming city,” Hurwitz said. “It’s such a beautiful city as well.”

After backpacking across Europe, Hurwitz looked for a place to volunteer in another country.

“My parents told me that if I wanted to go to Europe, I had to go and do a service trip as well,” Hurwitz said.

Hurwitz found her volunteer trip on Volunteer HQ, which she recommends to other looking for service trips. The trip had two aspects.

First, Hurwitz taught English at an orphanage in a suburb of San Jose for two months.

“I worked with 10 to 14 year old,” Hurwitz said. “I started off as a teacher’s aid, but I [later] got to teach my own class.”

While teaching Spanish, Hurwitz also had the opportunity to take Spanish classes.

“It helped me so much with my Spanish,” Hurwitz said. “I got to immediately use it in real life.”

Second, Hurwitz joined with biologists and other volunteers to work with endangered turtle eggs and hatchlings.

“We’d walk around the beach patrolling for turtles laying eggs,” Hurwitz said, “and we’d collect them with plastic bags and take them back to the hatchery.”

Hurwitz learned a lot from her gap year abroad about herself and about the world. She decided that she wants to major in international relations and Spanish.

“As soon as I graduate,  I want to get involved with more teaching,” Hurwitz said, “and I’d

like to go back to work with the turtles again.”

“[Traveling] really made me reevaluate my values as far as materialism and excess,” Hurwitz said. “It really made me want to minimize my lifestyle as far as clothing, money, the way I spend my time, and it made me want to travel more.”

Gilberto Galvez/Features editor

Gilberto Galvez can be reached at

Freshman Anna Hurwitz releases 100 baby turtles into the ocean. This is the most important stage in turtle hatchling care.

Freshman Anna Hurwitz hides inside the “A” of an Amsterdam sign. Her favorite city that she visited while backpacking across Europe was Amsterdam.

Freshman Anna Hurwitz poses for a picture in front of a friend’s house in Costa Rica.

Freshman Anna Hurwitz volunteered at a turtle hatchery for two weeks during her service trip to Costa Rica.

Freshman Anna Hurwitz stands in front of the Eiffel tower, one of the stops on her trip through Europe.

Freshman Ben Niesen takes a break from weed-whacking campsites for the U.S. Army Engineer Corps.

Photo courtesy of Anna Hurwitz

Photo courtesy of Anna Hurwitz

Photo courtesy of Anna Hurwitz

Photo courtesy of Anna Hurwitz

Photo courtesy of Anna Hurwitz

Photo courtesy of Ben Niesen