Two Menlo Graduates Decide To Take A Gap Year

The 12-day backpacking program soon-to-be-Menlo-alumni Julia Deffner will participate in next January. Screenshot from

Sofia Labatt, Assistant Social Media Director

The next school year will be full of big changes: most students will be vaccinated, classes will be in person and the majority of the class of 2021 will be off to college. While many students will be going to college immediately in the fall, soon-to-be-Menlo-alumni Elisabeth Westermann and Julia Deffner will be taking a gap year. Despite both students taking gap years, their motivations are different. Elisabeth will backpack in England while Julia will stay in the Bay Area for the fall and then travel later in the year. 

After quarantining for the majority of this past year, Westermann is ready for some new life experiences and adventures away from her family. When she returns from her gap year, she will attend Stanford University, just minutes away from her house and her family — another reason why she’s thrilled to have a chance to live on her own. 

For the fall and winter of this year, Westermann plans to attend a study abroad program in Oxford, England. “I’ll be taking classes in subjects like poetry and European history that I won’t have as much time to explore in college,” Westermann said. “I am also looking forward to being able to travel around the [United Kingdom] during those months.” While she does not have any set plans for the spring, she is considering traveling more, doing a backpacking trip or being an intern at an educational nonprofit. 

A large number of seniors in the class of 2020 took a gap year, inspiring Westermann. “Hearing about other people’s really positive gap year experiences made me start seriously considering the idea,” Westermann said. She also feels like she missed crucial learning experiences because of COVID-19, another reason why she chose to take a gap year. 

Julia Deffner, on the other hand, will approach her gap year differently. Currently, Deffner works at Whole Foods and volunteers for the Second Harvest Food Bank, which she will continue to do throughout the fall. During the winter and spring, she hopes to acquire ne skills like scuba diving and surfing as she visits Patagonia, Argentina and other European countries. During her gap year, Deffner hopes to distance herself from school: “I have always been really school-oriented so I think taking a year off to discover other interests outside of academics will be beneficial,” Deffner said. “As someone who maybe isn’t the most outgoing, it’ll be good for me to travel and experience other parts of the world on my own.” 

Despite her desire to take a year off from school, Deffner is intimidated by an unstructured lifestyle. “Taking a gap year will definitely entail me being pushed out of my comfort zone, [but] I think the fact that it scares me is one of the reasons why I should take a gap year,” Deffner said. 

Deffner is looking forward to traveling alone and participating in new activities such as backpacking across Europe, skydiving and rock climbing. Both Westermann and Deffner feel that this gap year will be important for them to grow as people before starting a new chapter of their lives at college.