Benefits of a Gap Year


The advantages of a Gap Year–a visual representation.

A gap year is beneficial for students transitioning from high school to college because it better prepares them to succeed in higher education and beyond.

For students graduating from high school, taking a year off before attending college presents an opportunity to refresh and revive before officially entering into university life. During this time, students discover what is important to them, which will assist to intensify their focus on their educational path of choice. Top universities and many cultures around the world fully recognize the relevance of a gap year, and regard those who have taken them as ‘well structured’ with a good sense of direction and maturity (White 7). Taking a year off forces students to gain confidence and take responsibility for themselves and their future in ways that cannot be learned in a classroom.

Although the concept of a gap year is still quite foreign in the United States, the prominent view shared by many countries around the world is that taking time off is constructive and often in the best interest of the student. According to studies by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation Research, more than 50 percent of students from Turkey, Denmark and Norway take a year off before attending college (American Gap Association, 2012). In the UK, over 30,000 secondary students apply for a university course but then defer in favor of a gap year, which is not counting those who choose to apply to university during or after their year off (Bridging a Gap, 2012).

These countries have recognized the benefits of a gap year, and so have many top universities. Among supporters, Harvard is and has been a long-time proponent of taking time off before college. In fact it is written in plain sight, to the lucky few who receive their coveted letter of admission, that deferring a year before attending is highly recommended (White 22). Princeton also jumps on the bandwagon, offering up to 10 percent of their incoming freshmen class a fully funded international volunteer experience, calling it a “Precollegiate enrichment year.” (White 22)

People in the field of education feel excited as the concept of a gap year grows in popularity. Many regard it as the beginning of a movement in education that values experiential learning, global awareness, environmentalism, and a concern for others throughout the world (White 2). Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Admissons at Duke University, praises the idea of a gap year, calling it a “terrific idea.” Jennifer Delahunty, Dean at Kenyon College, presses on the newly found “verve and excitement for learning” students have upon returning to school that can be lost after so many years of forced academia. Charles Monahan–a gap year student–elaborates, “During high school I wasn’t dreaming. I didn’t have many projects going on. I was just all about school. When people asked me what I wanted to do for a career someday, I never could answer them” (White 14).

Like Monahan, most teenagers today report having “little confidence in their ability to make an independent decision,” and say they rarely do anything without input from their parents (White 18). Without the tools to develop self-assurance, the last years of high school leave many students feeling lost and overwhelmed. Instead of jumping into college full of insecurities, taking a gap year allows young adults to refresh and recharge before entering back into the school system. High school students have a lot on their plate as they contemplate the idea of college and beyond. Students are integrated in a constant flow of academia, and many question whether a straight shot through school is the best path to take. A member of the academic team at Harvard asserts, “Let us hope that more of [current high school students] will take some sort of time off before burnout becomes the hallmark of their generation” (White 22).

For Kelsey Phinney, taking a gap year helped boost both her energy and maturity level, making a huge difference in terms of her confidence and preparation for college. She adds that her time abroad helps her gain a deeper understanding for the material learned in the classroom setting, and encourages her to widen her lens of the world to consider many different points of view.

Like Phinney, Whitney Roth, a student at the University of Vermont also attributes her confidence in herself to her time spent abroad, saying, “It gave me a sense of who and what I would like to see myself become” adding, “Had I gone to college straight out of high school I would not have known what to do with my newfound freedom” (White 13).

Safe to say, there are plenty of testimonials in support of the positive changes within an individual that a gap year brings. Top universities in the country stand behind and  encourage their scholars to take time off before attending school, and a handful of countries accept gap years as a commonality. Professors and Deans openly admit that students who take a year off not only come back to school with a new sense of love for learning, but are some of the top performers in the classroom setting (White 31). When students have the opportunity to recollect themselves and set aside the stresses of school to discover themselves and the world they live in, it will inevitably make them more successful, educated adults. From all the successes, it should be an obvious cue to any in doubt, that a gap year is in-fact beneficial for students.

Image: TopUniversities

“Benefits of a Volunteering Gap Year” TopUniversities. Quacquarelli Symonds Limited, 28 Feb 2013 Web. 23 Nov. 2013.


Research National Centre for Vocational Education, et al. “Bridging The Gap: Who Takes A Gap Year And Why? Longitudinal Surveys Of Australian Youth. Research Report.” National Centre For Vocational Education Research (NCVER) (2012): ERIC. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.

White, Kristin. The Complete Guide to a Gap Year: the Best Things to Do Between High School and College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

American Gap Year Association. American Gap Association, 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.


Thinking Beyond Borders. “Kelsey Phinney—Thinking Beyond Borders.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 3 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.


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Women in the Middle East and Social Media

Women in the Middle East and Social Media

In this Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 file photo, Iranian women use computers at an Internet cafe in central Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Pakistani women in the Middle East using social media in a local internet cafe

Women in the Middle East are using social media like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram to gain rights to increase financial and political independence and make their voices heard.

A young Egyptian man grabs a woman crossing the street with her friends in Cairo.

A young Egyptian man grabs a woman crossing the street with her friends in Cairo. (NPR)

Social media is changing the ability for women to be herd in the Middle East. Countless women are verbally harassed,  groped or worse. Social pressure often means women are not allowed to talk about these instances. This culture of objectifying women was an accepted norm that no one tried to change until now.

Through social media the women who are victims have been given a voice. A popular website launched in 2011 called, “HarassMap”  is a place where women can anonymously report through mobil phones where harassments happen in real time. Watch this video of founder Rebecca Chiao to find out more about why and how HarassMap began. The person reporting the assault can give details of what happened as well as the exact location. An interactive, color coded map shows areas where high amounts of incidents take place, and color code by the type of assault reported.

HarassMap also offers a place for women who are the victims of sexual assault a place to come together and receive professional help, they also offer self defense lessons.  It is important for the women to know that their stories are important and that people want to listen. As well it matters to know that through HarassMap they can make a change. HarassMap is truly the perfect venue of social media for a  social change. HarassMap is allowing women to make their voices heard.

T4Turban Instagram

T4Turban Instagram

To become finically independent as a women living in the Middle East is very difficult. Social norms in some con tires prohibit women from leaving their homes unaccompanied by a male let alone getting a job independently.

Social Media is changing this, now women can created their very own business online and never have to leave their homes.  This explains why 10%  percent of Internet start up companies are run by women worldwide except in  Middle Eastern cities: there that percentage goes up to a staggering 35% (Amman).  Rand Al Bassam, saw $10,000 worth of email orders for her turbans in one month after she launched on Instagram. She’s since established an e-commerce platform for T4Turban (MacBride).

Zaytouneh Cooking Viedo

One women that lived in Jordan,  Fida Taher, launched her own cooking website called Zaytouneh. This is a cooking website where now over 600 recipes are featured it is a big success on YouTube. It is the same format as the video above just giving cooking instructions  while showing the ingredients and hands of the chef. This incredibly successful business could not have been started without social media.

Financial independence can be achievable for women in the Middle East though social media. Many women have turned to social outlets to promote their businesses. Social media is igniting the Arab communities and empowering women to become their own bosses and financial support.

Social media is also making it simple and powerful for women to gain more political freedom. Women in Saudi Arabia recently staged a protest to allow them to drive that they promoted though social media.

The recent protests participants were encouraged to post videos of themselves driving online. They were encouraged to hastage the events as they posted them online so the entire world could see their protest. As well there is a Facebook page, entitled “Support #Women2Drive” has over 18,768 likes (Support #Women2Drive).  It is on this page that support is gathered for protests just like the one that just happened.

Manal al Sharif behind the wheel

Manal al-Sharif behind the wheel

One political activist and one of the first women to get behind the wheel in 2011, Manal al-Sharif has  shown that even with social media it is still a struggle to achieve political change she has been quoted saying,”I measure the impact I make by how harsh the attacks are. The harsher the attacks, the better I am doing” (Johnson). She has used social media to help spread her mission to get women to drive. Here is a video depicting her methods of political activism in Saudi Arabia. Her video really shows how vital social media is to her movement.

Women  in the Middle East will continue to use social media to spread their protests and eventually to achieve their right of driving independently, and they will continue to stage protests and gather support through social media until they have their rights.

The social media revolution is happening all over the Middle East. Social medias has given a voice to the voiceless, an open economy to the otherwise isolated, and a place to gather, protest and collaborate.

Women in the Middle East are using social media to its fullest potential to increase their political and social freedom and to alter the society in which they live.

Works Cited

Amman. “Start-up Spring.” 13 July 2013. The Economist. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://www.economist.com/news/business/21581737-clusters-internet-firms-are-popping-up-all-over-region-start-up-spring>.

Di Giovanni, Janine. “Riding Shotgun With The Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia.” Newsweek. Newsweek, 07 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://www.newsweek.com/riding-shotgun-woman-driving-change-saudi-arabia-2770>.

Fadel, Leila. “Vigilantes Spray-Paint Sexual Harassers In Cairo.” NPR. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. <http://www.npr.org/2012/11/01/164099058/vigilantes-spray-paint-sexual-harassers-in-cairo>.

Johnson, Bridget. “Manal Al-Sharif.” About World News. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. <http://worldnews.about.com/od/saudiarabia/p/Manal-Al-Sharif.htm>.

“HarassMap | Ending the Social Acceptability of Sexual Harassment and Assault in Egypt.” HarassMap. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://harassmap.org/en/>.

MacBride, Elizabeth. “Arab Spring 2.0: The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs.” CNBC. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. <http://www.cnbc.com/id/101179963>.

“Support #Women2Drive.” Facebook. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <https://www.facebook.com/Women2Drive>.

“T4Turban | Your One Stop Shop for Turbans.” T4Turban | Your One Stop Shop for Turbans. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. <http://www.t4turban.com/>

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Masks: Beauty or Deception?

Antonio Austin picture

In Ralph Ellison’s, The Invisible Man, there is an overarching theme of masks. When I think of a mask, I often think of it as an accessory for a special event. Within the context of this book masks are used to hide shocking facts or characteristics about individuals whom are being portrayed.

In this picture, from “The Masks” episode of “Twilight Zone” you see this screenshot of four individuals with disconcerting countenances upon their faces. Their faces are seen as depressing, jovial, serious, and unentertained, yet each one of these individuals are all holding a mask. The masks that each individual is holding seem to actually be different from the emotion that they are expressing upon their face. However, most of these masks are noticeably angry and very serious. The masks are not only just angry, but are also very distorted in comparison to the human face. All of the individuals are also wearing nice clothing, which leads me to believe that they may be a well off or affluent members in society. These people also look as though they are lifeless, functioning in a robotic and in a habitual manner.

The masks that are seen within this picture can be related to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, most distinctly regarding the character Dr. Bledsoe. Dr. Bledsoe puts up a façade of being a very prestigious, dedicated, and helpful president of the Narrator’s college, however he proves to be like the individuals that I saw within this image; fake, lifeless and wearing masks. Dr. Bledsoe had many different masks during is tenure within the book, such a loyal servant for the white community. This masks is seen when Dr. Bledsoe is rebuking the Narrator for taking Mr. Norton into the black community that and visiting the likes of people such as Trueblood. He ridicules the author because he should have should have shown him the things that he should be seeing. His constantly made sure that he was a serving and appeasing the white community by using the role of being a “good nigger.” Bledsoe also mentioned how he would not let anyone take his title or status away from him no matter other individual’s costs.

Another memorable mask that is seen in Invisible Man was when Dr. Bledsoe tricked the young and naïve Narrator into thinking that he was reprimanding him by sending him to work, with the goal of returning to school. Dr. Bledsoe showed this mask of betrayal by writing the author letters to members of the Board of Trustees of the University in order to help him find a job. However, this was not the case, and sent the Narrator on long journey within the book.

The use of masks is seen not only in this image, but also throughout Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, as a form of manipulation and arguably as a means of adaptation for some characters.


2006. Friday Child’s JournalWeb. 25 Feb 2013.            <http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v35/PeaceDiva/twilightzone  pope.jpg>.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, 1980. Print.

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Soul Food, Movie, 1997.

Soul Food, Movie, 1997.

George Tillman Jr.’s Soul Food tells the story of how traditional Black cooking (otherwise known as “soul food”) brings together members of a Black family living in Chicago.

This scene from the movie shows the women in the family cooking Sunday dinner. The grandmother, Mama Joe, is wearing a dress layered with an apron, and a wrapped head scarf. What she is wearing was a very common outfit worn by female slaves and black women during the early 1900s. However, the sisters have on regular clothing. There seems to be dialogue between Mama Joe and Bird (played by Nia Long). Bird is clearly positioned in the foreground of the frame with a look of disgust, while Mama Joe is in the middle-ground of the frame responding to Bird.

If one were to actually watch the movie they would notice that Bird is making ham hocks. The reason for her look of disgust (shown in the image above) is because she is asking Mama Joe,”Why we gotta eat ham hocks anyway?” Of course Mama Joe has a response saying, “That’s all we had to eat! Ham hocks, pig feet, chitterlings, so we learned how to make things taste good by trying them out.” She then goes on to say, “Soul food cooking is about cooking from the heart.” Although not shown, the sisters start to understand why Mama Joe maintain certain soul food recipes.

Soul food cooking first became relevant during slavery. Slaves were given the parts of animals that were “undesired,” such as feet and intestines (i.e. chitterlings). What Mama Joe explains is that they had to make do with what they were given, and the food that was made was then fed to the families. The dishes mentioned above as well as other dishes (i.e. greens, black-eyed peas, yams, etc.) all make up the basics of “soul food,” and recipes have since been passed down from generation to generation, eventually connecting today’s generation with their ancestors who were once enslaved.

Although a subtle reference in Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, soul food is symbolic. When the protagonist indulges in a yam being sold by a street vendor, he starts to explain the experience, saying he began to feel a “surge of  homesickness” and “an intense feeling of freedom.”  What is symbolic about the yam it is literally a rooted plant that has been adapted into traditional black cooking, connecting one to their “roots;” therefore, explaining why the protagonist felt “homesick” because it reminded him of his history. However, the “feeling of freedom” is interrupted by a rotten taste in the protagonist’s mouth, representing his remaining disconnect to his culture (which is further discussed in the novel). This shows a correlation between one’s connection to their Black history and the psychological “taste” of Black food. One does not work without the other.

Soul food is a tradition that connects Black people to themselves, each other, and their history.


Soul Food. Dir. George Tillman Jr. Perf. Irma P. Hall, Nia Long, Vanessa Williams, Vivica Fox. Twentieth Century Fox, 1997. Film.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible man. 2nd Vintage International ed. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.

“History Of Soul Food.” Award-Winning Gourmet Gift Baskets by GourmetGiftBaskets.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://www.gourmetgiftbaskets.com/History-Of-Soul-Food.asp&gt;.

Lynn, Andrea. “Soul Food – History and Definition of Soul Food.” About.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. <http://americanfood.about.com/od/resourcesadditionalinfo/a/Soul-Food-History-And-Definition.htm&gt;.

“Soul-Food History.” Soul Food Advisor. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. <http://www.soul-food-advisor.com/Soul-Food-History.html&gt;.

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Bone Player or Human Being: “Had he been a Minstrel?”

Painting by William Sidney Mount finished in 1856 depicting an African American musician playing a historically typical minstrel instrument.

Painting by William Sidney Mount finished in 1856 depicting an African American musician playing a historically typical minstrel instrument.

William Sidney Mount’s The Bone Player depicts an African American musician playing a musical instrument historically used in Minstrel shows in the late 19th century America in a way that walks the line of the slavery debate. This instrument is described in the eviction scene of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man.

The Bone Player is depicted life-like and with very realist characteristics, unlike other depictions of African Americans at the time. This painting was completed in 1856, just before the beginning of the civil war, a time when the debate over slavery was a source of major tension in the country. The musician is depicted wearing neat but otherwise plain clothing and a hat that looks worn and old. He wears a pink neck bow and a buttoned vest beneath his jacket. He has an earring in each ear and what looks like the tether of a pocket watch barely showing below his right arm across his chest.

The actual musician is not caricatured, as other paintings from the time were. He has smooth skin and proportionally sized features. The player is smiling, displaying a row of white, straight teeth. His teeth are not exaggerated, nor are his lips. He has a trimmed goatee and high cheekbones. The player has clean, trimmed fingernails. In each of his hands he has a set of knocking bones, with one bone held between the index finger and the middle finger and its pair held between the middle finger and the ring finger. The bones appear to have some kind of decorative carving on the convex side.

This painting is interesting, as is noted by the exhibit in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, because it displays its subject with a sense of respect. There is no feeling of mockery or caricature. American art from the pre-civil war era that had African Americans as its subject portrayed them in a “sambo” fashion with exaggerated physical characteristics which conveys a sense of disrespect. It would suggest that the artist held a kind of reverence for musicians, regardless of skin color. With that being said, there are factors of the painting that lend themselves to racism of the time, such as the title of the work – The Bone Player – which places the skill, rather than the musician, as the real subject of the painting. Furthermore, the skill itself was typical of minstrel shows, which did not portray a favorable image of African Americans.

It is arguable then that Mount painted this depiction of The Bone Player as an artist typically would – for the purpose to please a general audience of both Southerners and Northerners so that he might sell his work. Indeed, the work was commissioned as a part in a series of paintings by the printing group Goupil and Company destined to be lithographed for circulation in Europe.

This painting teeters between typical dehumanization of African Americans through art and a unique representation of a musician who possesses distinct personal qualities.  William Sidney Mount strategically painted The Bone Player in an attempt to please both sides of the slavery debate.
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