Hi, my name is Arianne and I am a Discover Year alumna and current Ambassador. If you aren't familiar with Discover Year, it is a structured and purposeful gap year program with five big components: skill-building workshops, work terms, a travel period, coaching and mentorship, and community service projects. Every aspect of the program helped me grow tremendously throughout my gap year, and I would love to tell you more about my experience.
When I was in the 12th grade, I was feeling very stressed because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation. At the time, I had been learning online for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I didn’t really feel motivated to go to university. On top of that, I was also feeling a bit stuck: I believed going to university was my only option, but I didn’t know what I wanted to study—and I definitely didn’t feel ready for it. I just needed a break. This is a feeling I think many young people can understand and relate to.
My mom was the one who originally heard about Discover Year and suggested it to me. At first glance, I dismissed the program because I didn't think it was a good choice for me. Since I worked really hard and got good grades in high school, I thought that taking a gap year would hinder me more than anything. I was also afraid of falling behind and missing out on opportunities and experiences that my friends would be having while at university. However, my mom was very persistent and eventually convinced me to sign up for an online Discover Year information session—and looking back on it now, I'm so glad she did.
At the info session, I thought the program seemed really interesting, but what really convinced me was seeing how much the students felt transformed by their experience and how supportive the community was. A lot of the students talked about how Discover Year helped them build up their confidence and find more direction for their future. That was exactly what I was looking for. As a teenager, I was always very shy and struggled with anxiety, so I was hesitant to take risks in high school. But this meant that I missed out on a lot of things, and I was tired of feeling that way. I knew I was capable of more. Discover Year seemed like a good way to push myself outside of my comfort zone in a safe environment, so I decided to take the leap.
That decision turned out to be the best choice I could’ve made! Throughout my gap year, I experienced so many amazing adventures that I would've never had otherwise and learned just how much I was capable of. And, as I expected, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone from the very first day. I still remember the first skill-building activity we did: handing out resumes to different businesses at a local mall. I was so anxious! I was scared to introduce myself to managers and ask about job openings. Handing out my first resume took me a while; I walked in and out of the store FIVE times! Eventually, the store clerk came up to me and we started talking. He was so friendly and I realized it wasn’t so scary after all. I felt so proud of myself after doing that! I remember not being able to stop smiling. It was so gratifying to be successful at something I thought I would hate and fail at.
Another component of Discover Year that had a huge impact on my growth was the travel period. When I first enrolled in the program, the travel component is the part that I feared the most. I had become really comfortable staying in my room and not doing much during the pandemic, so the idea of leaving my city and traveling on my own scared me. After many talks with the Discover Year staff, I decided to go to Vancouver. I spent one week alone there and had a blast! I didn’t think I had the confidence, or the skills, to travel alone, but through my Vancouver trip, I realized that I was totally capable of being on my own. This is what ultimately gave me the confidence to go to Queen's University in Kingston after finishing my Discover Year, rather than going to the University of Ottawa and living at home as I had originally planned.
Overall, throughout my gap year, I made amazing friends and valuable connections through Discover Year’s incredible network of mentors and staff. I started the program as a shy, quiet kid that was afraid to speak up, and ended the year receiving the Leadership Award from my peers and staff. I would not have grown as much as I did if it wasn’t for the Discover Year community and the environment it fosters for its students. If you are in high school and asking yourself the same types of questions I was when I was in Grade 12, I can not recommend Discover Year enough. You will have an amazing journey filled with tons of personal growth and development and countless new experiences and friendships.