Written by Melanie Mandell
Gap years are the perfect opportunity for the adventure of a lifetime. Fresh out of high school and old enough to be considered an adult, but not quite old enough to be completely responsible for yourself—the world is yours for the taking. First-year Mackenzie Davis made the most out of her gap year with an epic trip around the world that included three months in Southeast Asia, a NOLS Patagonia program, a trip around Chile, and a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) certification.
Starting the year off with a trip to Asia, Davis visited China, Laos, and Cambodia. While there, she spent a month in each country traveling and living in homestays with various families. “The main focus of the program I was in was learning about how the Mekong River is intertwined in the lives of the people and how hydropower and development is affecting agriculture,” said Davis. “I also studied Buddhism while I was there by staying in temples and talking with the monks about their beliefs and decision to dedicate their lives to religion.”
After her educational and spiritual journey through Asia, Davis headed over to northern Patagonia to complete a NOLS course. Though in hindsight she enjoyed the experience, there were definitely times when the trip tested her patience. “There was one time when we were camping above Alpine and at 1 a.m. we woke up to 50 mile-per-hour winds tearing down our tents. It took the entire group to triple reinforce all of the tent lines and keep the tents from blowing away,” recalled Davis. “There is also a picture of me where I’m crying and holding a handful of raisins because that was the only food we had left, and I hate raisins.” As for any takeaways, Davis said she mainly just learned that she could “put her body through hellish conditions and come out of it in one piece.”
Following her physically demanding NOLS trip, Davis opted to explore a cattle ranch on the southern end of Chile, the northern mountains, and some cities along the coast. To begin her eight-week Chilean adventure, Davis travelled to a cattle ranch just outside of Puerto Natales. She did some hiking while there, but mainly rode horses on and around the ranch. “Following my stay at the ranch, I flew as far North as you can go in Chile to San Pedro de Atacama and did some hiking around there. Then I went out to the coast and spent some time in Valparaiso, a beautiful city built on a hill, where all of the buildings are old and colorful and look out onto the ocean.It’s full of artists who spend their days creating beautiful murals on the sides of the buildings,” described Davis. Her time in Valparaiso allowed her to get a thorough understanding of the culture of Chile. “There I mostly just wandered around the city seeing what I could find. My favorite thing to do while traveling is getting lost in a city and just exploring.”
Before concluding her year of adventure, Davis decided to get her WEMT certification. At first, she took this course solely to appease her parents by doing something “productive,” but she ended up discovering a new passion. “I have totally fallen in love with medicine,” admitted Davis. “I’m currently in the process of getting my search and rescue certification and am pursuing the pre-med track at CC to eventually become an emergency room doctor.”
When asked to pick a “best experience” from the year as a whole, Davis had difficulty choosing between all of the amazing adventures she had had. If she had to choose, she thinks her stay in Southeast Asia was the best. “I loved living with my homestay family in Laos. They were such kind people and welcomed me so completely into their home. Most of the villagers are rice farmers and fisherman but my host father actually works for the organization that is disarming the unexploded bombs leftover from the Vietnam War, and the experience as a whole was fascinating to see how people in other countries live,” she explained.
All in all, Davis had a diverse and productive experience during her gap year. “Traveling and meeting new people taught me so many valuable lessons and totally altered my world perspective.”