Leopard Look: Gap year graduates


Photos courtesy of Abby Bryant and Ellie Stockton

[Left] Abby Bryant poses with her host family in Vancouver, Canada. [Right] Ellie Stockton visits the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

Graduates Abby Bryant and Ellie Stockton spend their first year after graduating high school in 2017 on a gap year in Vancouver and Philadelphia, respectively.


The Red Ledger: What does your average day look like?

Abby Bryant: Mondays are my day off, so I get to spend them reading, writing, journaling, praying, and exploring the city of Vancouver. Tuesdays I work with internationals at the church I am currently serving at. I get to teach them English and simply build a relationship with those adults. That evening, I also get to partake in a young adults’ Bible study, which has been an incredible way to get to know the needs of my new home and community, as well as be able to pray for those specific concerns. Wednesdays I spend time up at the church to meet up with the staff to discuss things we are thankful for and things we covet prayer for. Thursdays I am privileged to teach ESL [English as a Second Language] again to my students. Fridays and Saturdays are spent either with my host family or with friends I have met over the past four months. Sundays are spent up at church, helping with children’s Sunday school and taking part in the English service. My church has a Korean service that follows right after the English one.

TRL: What have you learned over the past few months of your gap year?

AB: Sometimes I feel like I’ve learned more than my words can even express. One thing God has really reminded me of is my inability to do life on my own. We were never designed to do life all by ourselves, and in light of that, I am so incredibly thankful for the Lord, as well as my friends, family, and even the new acquaintances I have in my life. Speaking now as a graduate, it seems like in your final year of high school you crave nothing more than to be free, independent, and out there conquering the world on your own agenda; not that anything is wrong with freedom, but you should never underestimate the necessity of relationships. For many of us, our community is established for us while we are under the care of our parents, but once you are out on your own and have to “re-establish” yourself, you realize how desperately you need people around you to love on you-you need community.

TRL: Do you feel any different watching your high school friends in college?

AB: For a while, I remember seeing posts on social media of life at college, and it would cause me to feel a little out of place. In all honesty, I live in a city where I am a minority— very few people are my age and much less my ethnicity. Initially, it was a battle to see my former classmates and friends be surrounded by new friends and people our age because I lacked that here. Graciously, over time, God has provided me with amazing relationships and experiences that I would not trade for anything in the world. In such a short amount of time, God has allowed a foreign place to feel like home to me.

TRL: What is your life currently like?

AB: As of right now, I am nearly halfway done with my gap year, and it has been nothing short of life-changing. In the past few months, I have been pushed and challenged in ways I never thought I would be, and I don’t know if I, personally, would have had the room to grow the ways that I have if I had gone straight to college. Being separated from my family and everything I’ve ever known has caused me to question and discover where my true identity and confidence lies, and it is because I have had the opportunity to wrestle with those questions that I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to be in Canada.

TRL: What are your plans for the upcoming months?  

AB: [I’m] looking forward to this second half of my gap year. My deepest desire is to simply support the people who have been called to serve here in Vancouver long-term. In addition to getting to know the people in the city, I want to recognize the needs of the families who have settled here permanently to serve and love the people of Vancouver. As many people may know, I am here interning at a church. However, what many people do not know is that only .7 percent of this city [are] Evangelical Christians, and Christianity is not easily welcomed here, so it is easy, as a Christian, to feel discouraged and alone. That being said, even in my short time here, I have received several letters, and I know first-hand how much it means to have someone encouraging you and rooting for you, especially when you are in an unknown and uncomfortable place. Now it is my joy to provide that same encouragement to people here.

TRL: What are your plans after your gap year concludes?

AB: My plan after returning home is to go to college somewhere. I have narrowed down to a couple options, one in the states and one abroad, but I have not yet made a decision as to where I will study.

TRL: What is your most memorable experience thus far?

AB: It is hard to choose one because there have been so many sweet and cherishable experiences, but I will share one of my favorites. After spending my morning up at the church one day, I decided to walk around the city for a little bit. While I was headed back home, I ran into two of my ESL students— both women are probably in their 50s and moved here a few years ago from China. All I expected was a simple hello and maybe a quick conversation because I figured these women had better things to do than to talk to an 18-year-old girl, fresh out of high school; yet to my surprise, my students stopped what they were doing and invited me to have lunch with them at one of their homes. I was so humbled by their kindness and generosity towards me, and I could not say “yes” fast enough. We spent the afternoon learning new words in both English and Mandarin, eating homemade dumplings, and chuckling at my very limited skills with chopsticks.

TRL: Do you have any other comments?

AB: Upon arriving here, I was given a lot of freedom to choose which ministries and opportunities I wanted to become involved in. My deepest passion has been for the ESL students in this area. Nearly 67 percent of the people in my neighborhood speak a language other than English, so the need for English teachers is high in Vancouver. Additionally, when I was growing up, my mom volunteered as an ESL teacher in Plano, and I was inspired by the way she welcomed and loved people of all different backgrounds and cultures. In some ways, my time here has allowed me to follow in the footsteps of one of my greatest role models.


The Red Ledger: What does your average day look like?

Ellie Stockton: My day varies depending on the day. Weekdays consist of internship and class time. For my internship, I get up and work from 9-5 and then will most likely hang out with my friends or host family after. Weekends are super random, but the most fun. We are in the city, so it’s not hard to find cool things to do!

TRL: What have you learned over the past few months?

ES: It’s really hard to know, honestly. It’s a whole new kind of challenge being in a new environment and is often extremely overwhelming. I think once I get past those times of feeling lost or overwhelmed, I realize that I have learned more than I think. I have learned empathy for people in which I may not have felt empathy for initially. I work every day with refugees from all around the world, and it’s a whole new world of experience. I hear the craziest heartbreaking stories every day that has changed the way I think about the whole refugee process. I have learned what it looks like to love those around me instead of instantly judging them, and I have noticed that with myself every day.

TRL: Do you feel any different watching your friends be in college?

ES: If anything, it makes me feel better about my decision. I know I was not ready for that part of my life yet, and I’m much more called to the kind of life this gap year has given me rather than being in college. Instead of finals, I’ll be heading to NYC this weekend and hanging with my friends, so I guess you could say I’m super grateful.

TRL: Can you give me a quick update on your life?

ES:  It’s crazy, and that’s as simple as I can put it. This gap year has been the best decision of my life, but it comes with its battles. Philadelphia is coming to end soon, and I’ll be heading home for Christmas before I head to the Middle East and then Rwanda.

TRL: Have you made any plans for when your gap year has concluded?

ES: I have applied to so many different colleges that I think I have forgotten about because there is so many. I am still trying to figure out what I’m passionate about and what I want to peruse as a career, but I think I’m heading toward something with journalism.

TRL: What is your most memorable experience you have had thus far?

ES: One weekend me and my friends went to Ocean City, New Jersey, and it was a blast. We had a lot of vulnerable moments with each other and grew so much closer with one another. We spent one night camping on the beach, and it was freezing. I mean like so insanely cold and windy and all we had [were] thin blankets that did absolutely nothing. It was so funny because of how cold it was, and we laughed almost the entire night while we watched the stars and listened to Bon Iver. It was something I don’t think I’ll forget.

TRL: How has your semester of training/classes been?

ES: It’s been interesting, to be honest. We don’t learn things I learned in school, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment for me. We talk about really hard things that have left a heavy weight on my heart– lots of social and political issues that have stuck with me because of how complex they are. I often felt overwhelmed with trying to understand the world around me and feeling like I need to “fix” it, but it’s not just [a] one job kind of thing.

TRL: Where is the first country/place you will visit?

ES: The Middle East.

TRL: Do you have any other comments?

ES:  Take a gap year. It’s so great doing hard things and having no clue what you are doing sometimes. Yeah, sure, it’s a crazy time in my life, but it’s already reaped the benefits. I encourage all of you to get out of the routine of life at home. Get out in the world, whatever that means for you, and do something you really would never think to do. Meet incredible people who have a different perspective than you– it’s a beautiful thing. Be open to any opportunity that presents itself to you and take it and run. Live life and do crazy, fun, hard things.