Gap Year for Growth
By Caitlyn Watson
Do you have a gap year coming up after high school? Do you want to grow in your faith while exploring a different part of the world? That’s exactly what Hadiya Huijer had in mind when she signed up for Outtatown, a discipleship program offered through Canadian Mennonite University.
Hadiya has a younger sister, Josina, and both girls were homeschooled by their parents, Laurisse and Gwenda Huijer. Laurisse is a civil engineer who was born in the Netherlands, while Gwenda also enjoys a Dutch background but was born in Canada.
The family has been homeschooling from the start of Hadiya’s school years and is now enjoying their sixteenth year of homeschooling, with HSLDA alongside them from the beginning. “We joined HSLDA to support them and others, as well as have the support available for ourselves,” said Laurisse and Gwenda.
Hadiya approached the end of her homeschooling journey a year early, and hence embraced a gap year with Outtatown. This 8-month, fully accredited program offered by the Canadian Mennonite University is for young adults who desire to grow in their Christian walk. Students begin their time together traveling across western Canada, then spend three months in either South Africa or Guatemala.
“Initially, my decision to go to South Africa as opposed to Guatemala was based on the fact that the South African site involves more travelling,” Hadiya said enthusiastically. “I wanted to explore as much as I could, and the South African site was the perfect opportunity for me to do that. There is also more of an adventure focus at the South African site, which was something that drew me to the program – although my parents might not have been as excited about that part as I was!” she laughed. “While in South Africa, we got to go skydiving and bungee jumping, as well as spending time surfing and hiking.”
The community Hadiya experienced with her fellow travelers was the most enriching part of her journey. “Sharing so many exciting and impactful experiences with a group of people and living with them for seven months meant that we got to know each other very well,” she smiled. “Even now, almost two years after I first met them, I keep in touch with them regularly and know that if I ever needed anything, any one of them would be there for me.”
However, living within such a community also created the most difficulties. “All thirty-seven of us came from very different backgrounds and church denominations, and sometimes these differences caused tension within our group,” Hadiya noted. “Living with the same people with no breaks from each other for seven months is challenging, but ultimately it was also very rewarding, because we were able to learn from each other’s different views and experiences.”
Hadiya also encountered a variety of cultural differences along the way. “One week of our first semester was spent at the Roseau River Anishinabe Reserve in Roseau River, Manitoba.We got to experience many important aspects of the Anishinabe culture, such as a sweat lodge. We also encountered cultural differences during our urban plunges in the inner cities of Winnipeg and Vancouver, where we interacted with people who lived on the streets, as well as the people and organizations that work to help them,” she recalled. “One of the biggest cultural norms that stood out to us in all of our homestays in South Africa was the importance of community – there were always friends, family members, and neighbours coming and going in my homestays, and it was rare that we would eat dinner with only our host family – most meals were shared with others.”
Hadiya decided to continue her education with Canadian Mennonite University after her travels with Outtatown. “The small size of CMU (seven hundred students) means that the feeling of community that I loved so much during Outtatown is something that I get to continue to experience now that I attend CMU,” Hadiya affirmed. She is currently enrolled in the music therapy program and is interested in working with seniors once she has completed her degree.
“I would definitely recommend Outtatown to anyone, especially if you’re unsure of what you want to do after you graduate, or if you’re just looking for an opportunity to learn and explore before starting university,” Hadiya encouraged. “I didn’t know what to expect when I applied for Outtatown, but it’s definitely been one of the best experiences of my life, and it’s something that I’m continuing to learn from, even after almost two years.”