Rentrée, Solitude and Adulthood: Starting a gap year the right way

Last Monday night, I was simply browsing my SciencesPo email inbox. As I was scrolling through the endless unread emails about job offer alerts and failing printing servers, inauguration conferences and event invitations, the feeling sneaked between the lines and struck me without warning.

It wasn’t just a sudden feeling, but also a realization: for me, this was the first September in a long time that wasn’t synonymous with going back to school, university or any other academic institutions

See, the French language uses this word, rentrée, to name the period that both kids and adults tend to apprehend so much, marking the end of the summer vacation and forcing us to go back to our routine. The word highlights the rupture between the freedom suggested by the summer time, and the call of duty that forces us to come back to school, to the office – whatever institution Foucault would gleefully rant on.


As you can see, it doesn’t have its exact translation in English. 

Rentrée scolaire (noun + adj) à back to school (adverb + noun)


Indeed, I wasn’t coming back. That’s precisely what struck me. It was a reminder that time was slowly advancing, leaving some routines behind. It was a preview of the end of my student lifestyle; a foretaste of the bittersweet “adult life”.

It was even more unfamiliar to see the effervescence on social media: friends posting about “coming back to school”, complaining about absent professors or annoying classmates; associations and student groups advertising their activities… I felt as if I was standing in the middle of a crowded square, unmoving and surrounded by people going their own way. A simple spectator to an agitation that didn’t concern me anymore. There is a solitude inherent to leaving going out of the student life you’ve gotten so accustomed to for many years: when you’re taking a gap year, you’re diverging, you’re going out when everybody is coming back. It’s beyond ordinary FOMO or student nostalgia. It’s like going down a packed avenue in New York when everybody seems keen on going uptown when you’re the only person on that sidewalk going downtown.

That solitude is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I have found it quite difficult to tame, especially when most of my student years were composed of quite busy nights with friends. Boy, do I miss waking up at 8:11am to go to a 10am class – then grabbing a beer with friends at 8pm because you know that you won’t have class the next day until 2pm. The strictness of the 9 to 6 work-life has been an exercise in prioritizing and scheduling one’s most important resource: time. And contrary to my own expectations, I discovered that the extrovert that I am wouldn’t mind sometimes skipping on a social gathering to spend her nights alone in her studio room.

But this solitude is needed. Solitude has been a loyal companion, a helping hand for when I need to focus on my projects, when I need time to explore my interests, define my career plans or simply meditate on the beauty of life.

On the other hand, it has made my encounters with friends and acquaintances more meaningful. A recurrent discussion theme with my tight-knit group of friends is how growing up, our personal and professional paths will surely set us apart in 4 or 5 years; how our diverging paths (some of us are going back to school, some not) are *already* making our nights out together rarer and more precious. We like to half-joke about it, assuring that the increased rarity of our times together is only a sign on the road of our inexorable march towards “adulthood”. It is no secret that those of my generation use sarcasm, irony and a form of cynical realism to cope with the hardships of the responsibilities that progressively come as one ages; these hardships we call “adulthood”.

Yet, I refuse to follow the vision of “adulthood” promoted by quite sad Human of New York posts or by Buzzfeed memes. I don’t want to see “adulthood” as only a sad and repetitive exercise; a rigid dolmen, an unmovable concept that would crush all of our adolescent dreams and joys under its weight. I want my adulthood to be flexible, moving: that is how I’ll endure the natural lows and heights of the human existence.

Surely, it seems that this gap year is for me the time to embrace “adulthood”. Not that I am saying I’m secretly cultivating a Peter Pan syndrome but getting comfortable and familiar with the freedom – and the responsibilities – that come with a gap year is the kind of growth I am looking forward to.

A gap year is a period of learning, a period of transition that can be surprisingly stagnant. I remember when as a bachelor student, I would hear tales of acquaintances going on a “gap year”, imagining them roaming the planet with a single backpack and wanderlust filling their pockets. I imagined people with enough money to go around the world twice, people with enough professional security to know exactly what they were going to do and when they were going to start.

That is, until I took one myself.

“So, how is it?”, you want to ask?

Well, how’s my gap year like?

I can’t say for now.

I am barely in the beginning of said gap year: in a year, I hope to write my own conclusion and tell you what I have learned from it. I am therefore not here to tell you yet how this gap year has magically transformed my perspective of life and of my career, nor to enumerate all the amazing experiences I have had and am hoping to have during this year. No. I’ll leave that to a subsequent blog post.

As I am not going back this year, I guess I’ll have to keep on going forward.

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