Taking time between high school and college has become increasingly common among Baltimore teens.
CREDIT: DAVID COLWELL
DeMarco worked on a farm in the Andes.
In the fall of 2011, as The Park School graduate Jamie DeMarco’s classmates packed their duffel bags for colleges across the country, a freshly immunized DeMarco (rabies, Yellow Fever, Typhoid) filled his R.E.I. backpack with six bottles of insect repellant, a hand-filter pump, and some mosquito netting and boarded a Miami flight bound for Quito, Ecuador.
“I had been going to class my entire life,” says DeMarco, sitting in the living room of his family’s Lake Montebello home, fresh from his travels. “I was not looking forward to classes. I was burnt out from having to follow such a narrow path for so long, and I wanted to go out and live rather than waiting four more years to begin my life.”
To get off the academic fast track and heed to his wanderlust, DeMarco, like many other high-school students in Baltimore and beyond, took a “gap year”—a self-exploratory sabbatical in which students defer college for community service, world travel, internships, and other activities away from the structure of school.
For DeMarco, his gap year began on Wisdom Forest, a farm east of the Andes, which he found on the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) website.
“I e-mailed the contact person at Wisdom Forest that I wanted to work there from this date to that date,” says DeMarco. “It was that simple.”
While at Wisdom Forest ($10 a day for room and board), the high-school graduate did everything from weed to harvest to compost. Mornings began with a regimen of Bhakti yoga.
DeMarco’s adventures did not end there. Before his sabbatical ended, he had worked as a cave tour guide and lived in a rainforest for three weeks subsisting on yucca, bananas, and leaves from local plants.
“I would spend days fantasizing about pizza,” says DeMarco, “but by the end of the three weeks, I had learned to control those cravings. It was important to cut off those fantasies at the very beginning.”
The experience, he says, changed his life.
“I worked with people of all ages from all over the world,” says DeMarco. “Some mornings I’d wake up and think, ‘Wow, I could be in a college classroom right now,’ but I’m here.”
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