Over the course of their educational careers, some students take gap semesters to learn or experience something new and different. The change of pace can be invigorating and inspiring, teaching them lessons they might not encounter in a traditional classroom setting.
For some, that might be a mission trip to take care of orphans in Africa, doing graphic design work in Southeast Asia or going to the fire academy.
Cassady Weldon has been on a semester-long mission trip to Uganda. She arrived Sept. 10 and is scheduled to return Dec. 5.
She happened upon the opportunity during the annual Missions Emphasis Week.
“I met the directors of Rafiki Africa Ministries at last year’s MEW and started talking to them about working with them,” Weldon said.
The organization seemed like a good fit.
She said, “I have always loved traveling, and I have a passion for adoption and orphan advocacy.”
While she works with the orphans, Weldon is immersed in an African way of life.
“This experience has taught me so much,” she said. “I have learned so much about the Ugandan culture and history. My eyes have been opened to a completely different lifestyle.”
Living overseas has made her thankful for the relative luxury she grew up in as an American.
“Being in a part of the world where most people live on one dollar or less a day has made me really appreciate the value of a dollar. I have become so much more aware of how much abundance that America has been blessed with,” she said.
As Weldon looks back on her experience, she has no regrets when it comes to taking time away from school.
“Taking a semester off was completely worth it,” she said. “I have absolutely loved my time here, and I feel it has given me a different perspective on life ….”
While Weldon’s trip in Uganda comes to a close, another student is gearing up for a mission in Southeast Asia.
Senior graphic design major Beka Ray, who is not allowed to disclose her exact destination, never intended to take a gap semester.
“I just had wanted to do a Christmas mission pretty much all throughout my college experience. So, I had gone and applied for one.”
After she began the application process, she came across the opportunity to go on a much longer trip.
“When I was looking at the different trips they had available, I read one that was a gap year, but it’s also doing graphic design, which is within my major.”
At first, Ray didn’t believe taking a year off school was practical.
“I really felt interested in that, but I didn’t think it would be an option, because it’s a full semester, and I’m supposed to graduate in May.
She believes prayer and a supportive family helped bring confirmation.
“I just started praying about it, and I really felt like God was pulling me towards that. There’ve been a lot of situations that have made it possible, like with financial aid and my parents’ support.”
Ray is scheduled to leave the U.S. in January and return in June. While she is in Southeast Asia, she will be working with an array of media.
“It’s a graphic design, hands-on trip, so I’ll be doing print work, photography, video, some web things and a tiny bit of journalism ….”
While Weldon and Ray were preparing themselves for missions work, Troy Robinson took a year off to pursue a career as a firefighter.
“I started in October of 2011, and I left in August of 2012. The reason I left was to come back to UMHB,” he said.
He enjoyed his time off, but decided continuing his education was the route to take.
“I had just finished the EMT academy at Leander Fire Department. I was about to start the fire academy, but decided to go back to school,” he said.
Robinson’s compassion led him to desire a career as an emergency responder.
“What really influenced me was that I want to help people. I enjoy helping people, so I thought firefighting would be a great career choice,” he said.
Although finishing college was the path he chose, Robinson has no regrets, and benefitted from his time at the fire station. Even though he never participated directly in fighting a blaze, he built a lasting camaraderie with the friends he made.
“I enjoyed it very much. I wasn’t able to go into any actual fires, but being able to go and help out the firefighters at the station and on scene was a blast.”
His days as a volunteer firefighter were not only filled with excitement, they taught him some valuable lessons that have positively impacted his outlook on life.
“I learned that you shouldn’t take life for granted. Seeing some of the things on a scene of an accident really puts life in perspective.”