Dudley & Kiniya

Dudley & Kiniya

#19304 Tommy Dils – Gap Year Reflection

Brendan • 6 years ago • Uncategorized

tommy-headshotTommy Dils
School: Middlebury ‘17
Most Recent Role at Camp: 2015 Junior Division Head

Why did you decide to take a gap year?

As for my gap year, I decided to take a year off between high school and college because I was young for my grade and I wanted to improve at soccer heading into my varsity career at Midd. I chose to plan out the year on my own because few programs offered exactly what I was looking for. In hindsight, this was a risky decision to make and there were plenty of moments when I wished that I’d had more support, but the experience of going out on my own was valuable. A program that allows for individual, self-directed exploration is in my opinion the best kind of gap year program.

What did you do during your gap year?

I landed in Bad Homburg, Germany for first half of my gap year because of a family connection, and I’d been interested in living in the country because I had such an incredible time during the Dudley-Abbensen German Exchange trip that I took during the summer of 2009.  The family was American and British, and they had four kids under the age of 10. I stepped in as a “big brother” who helped out with a lot of babysitting responsibilities, and they welcomed me into their home. They also helped get me set up with a local soccer club and an bilingual international school in the city. I volunteered at the school three days a week, teaching gym classes with a Canadian gym teacher and working with kids aged 5-14.

The soccer was one of the best parts of my year. I played for both the U18 team and the men’s team at the club, and I quickly learned that I had to limit my turnovers to avoid being yelled at in German. I trained almost every day, and while there was a bigger language barrier between myself and my teammates than in other elements of my Germany experience, I learned and improved the most from playing soccer.

I was also able to travel, and I got to know the country really well. I was never more than a three or four hour train ride from any of Germany’s big cities, and I loved exploring new places on my own or meeting up with new or old friends. As was the case during the entire year, I found the Dudley network to be incredibly helpful, and the Dudleyites with whom I connect were generous and always made me feel at home.

I returned to the US for the second half of the year, volunteering at an organic farm in Florida for a few weeks during February before moving in with my aunt and uncle in Hamden, CT where I worked during the spring. I split my time between the New Haven Country Club, where I caddied and worked in the pro shop, and Park Central Tavern, a restaurant that my uncle owned at the time. I was able to make back the money I’d spent in Germany and get challenged in new ways. The days when I was the first one opening up the golf club in the morning and leaving the restaurant after closing were exhausting at the time, but I look back on them as the moments that toughened me up the most and prepared me for the challenges of college.

How has it impacted you in college/beyond?

My gap year prepared me for being a leader at Camp Dudley and for entering Middlebury in more ways than I could’ve imagined. I learned not to overreact when my plans went awry, to see the fun that spontaneity and flexibility created, and to trust my instincts. I also took pride in being able to plan out the entire year on my own and have it work out successfully. I went into the gap year wanting to improve my soccer, and I did so, but I came out of it having learned so much more about myself. I came into college confident in my own abilities, with a willingness to stay true to myself instead of getting sucked into the social pressures that college can present. The sense of adventure that I felt every day of my gap year has never left me, and for this reason I’ve gotten out and explored Vermont and the Adirondacks more so than many of my peers.

I kept a blog during my gap year called “For There is Much To Dare”—a nod to my Dudley roots and my desire for adventure. I accumulated over 50 blog posts, and I love looking back over them from time to time. They bring back so many positive memories and they inspire me to continue to explore.

Check it out and if you want to pull anything from it, feel free!


Final Thoughts

My final thought about gap years in general is this… So much much of education in the US is linear, structured, performance-based, and discrediting of students’ autonomy over their own learning. My gap year taught me that I could have a say in my learning environments and experiences, and I know it can do the same for so many who chose this option. A gap year offers a change of pace from the rest of our standardized educational trajectories—one that enables individuals to be critical of their education and to take ownership of it in a new, more proactive way.


Head back to the Gap Experience Page.

NY Education Web Design