Nora Fried
Hometown: Montclair, NJ

As a 2017 USA Gap Year Fairs Student Ambassador Scholarship recipient, we were excited to check in with Nora to see how her gap year with HMI – High Mountain Institute’s Gap Semester in the American West and Patagonia has been going so far! Below, you can read all about Nora’s gap time in her own words below. She is our very first featured gap year student in our “Student Voices” section, so be sure to check back for more real life gap year stories soon!

Just outside Moab, Utah, Nora stands 200 feet off the ground at the final pitch of the Ancient Art Tower while gearing up to climb to the top. 

September 27th, 2017 11:46am Eastern (although I think I am somewhere over the Midwest)

“Feeling a bit apprehensive, but also the kind of excited that makes me want to jump out of me seat and run up and down the airplane isles. Whenever roles shift and we step into uncomfortable transitions, there is a chance to find new outlets for the parts of ourselves that may be under-appreciated, or perhaps, yet undiscovered; a time to reevaluate things that have ‘always been done this way’ and to follow new inspirations.”

I wrote this entry on the day of my gap year adventure and its sentiment continues to resonate with me.

The first semester of my gap experience was spent with the High Mountain Institute as a student of their Rock Climbing and Conservation Semester Program. Although at the surface the curriculum is mainly focused on student development of rock climbing proficiency and technique, the program offers students so much more. Students have the opportunity to challenge themselves in the backcountry, learn to live comfortably and travel with care through the wilderness, practice leadership skills and challenging self-assessment, embrace community and mindfully communicate with one another, and travel through incredibly inspiring landscapes.

The journal entry above was written on the plane to Colorado, the first day of my HMI gap year semester. I sat cramped in the way back of the plane, backpack cluttered with climbing gear, bursting with excitement to begin my adventure…and quite the adventure it was. The HMI program provided me the space to grow as an individual, to discover those parts of myself that were hidden by apprehension, self-consciousness, and fear, to challenge myself and to have an open mind, to be honest, to ask questions, to simply be the person the ‘world’ won’t let me be so much of the time.

Together, the semester accomplished many feats. We backpacked through the Sawatch Mountains of Colorado, tackling the challenges of cold and snowy backcountry travel. We climbed big walls, towering spires, and splitter cracks in Utah practicing our climbing skills and pushing our physical limits. We circumnavigated travel to Patagonia, Chile (quite a feat for a group) with three plane rides, two van trips, and a boat journey. We battled the wind and challenging Chilean maps as we trekked in the wilderness areas surrounding Chile Chico, a small town in central Chile. We walked across the border between Chile and Argentina with all of our gear in order to be legal visitors in both nations. We shopped at Chilean grocery stores, spoke Spanish with natives, and explored current Chilean political issues. And I had a fantastic time doing it all.

Students taking a break from trail work in Donnelley Canyon in Indian Creek, UT. Photo credit: Justin Talbot, High Mountain Institute.

As a culmination to the semester experience, HMI has students go on a “solo sit.” Each student spent about thirty-six hours alone in some sort of wilderness space. The only task during this “solo” was for the students to write a “full circle” reflection – a culminating piece of writing with which to end the experience, something meaningful to share with the whole group. Below is a short excerpt from my “full circle.”

“…Thank you all for giving me the space to explore who I really am in this moment and helping me begin to decide who it is I hope I will become. Thank you for giving me more credit than I would ever give myself, for challenging and supporting me. I hope to live a life of courage and compassion. This experience has given me the opportunity to examine what it feels like to be courageous, to stand even with my fear, looking it right in the eye, to confront that unnerving mindset that I must be unafraid.”

My semester with the High Mountain Institute gap year program was life changing; I learned and laughed a whole lot with some incredible people in some breathtaking places.

Students lead climbing in Piedra Parada, Argentina. (Nora is the second climber from the left!)

Learn more about the HMI – High Mountain Institute gap year opportunities here and search other gap year programs on our site.

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