Gap Year Experience: Dunovan Belisle

From out West to the outback.

Dunovan Belisle treats sheep during the shearing process. It took approximately seven days to do all of the sheep on the farm. - Stijn Janssen

Dunovan Belisle, a 2015 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, elected to take a year off before college. His six-month gap experience took him to California and Australia. He’s now a communications major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The beginning of my gap year placed me in California, where I was volunteering with the American Conservation Experience, a program associated with AmeriCorps. While in California, I worked doing state trail restoration, meadow restoration, and even ended up building a water well.

While I was working, I camped on the site with people from all walks of life. Many of the volunteers I worked with were foreign, and because of this I have a network of friends from all across the globe, including countries like Germany, Sweden, and South Korea, whom I still keep in touch with.

While offsite, I stayed in a home similar to a hostel with my peers. This environment allowed me to grow personally, as I was forced to shop for myself, cook, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. While at first this was a tough change for me, as it was my first time even traveling alone, I eventually became comfortable with my new lifestyle, and this alone had an extremely positive impact on my character, and later made my transition into my new college lifestyle appear seamless.

After spending three months volunteering in California, I took my winter break time to come home and reconnect with my family and all of my friends from high school.

Next I went to Australia, where I planned to land a job working on a farm in the outback. I spent my first month traveling and learning to surf, and I even got to attend a music festival. This gave me time to become comfortable in a drastically different environment.

Although it was a big change for me, living in a foreign country allowed me to truly live the way I wanted to, and although it’s a cliché, I truly believe that I was able to make amazing progress in “finding myself.”

After my month of traveling, I took a 10-hour bus ride into the outback of Queensland, where I spent the next three months working on a 33,000-acre cattle farm with my boss, his son, and two other backpackers. The work that I did on the farm was some of the hardest that I have done in my life. I built entire fences, mustered cattle on a dirt bike and horseback, and took care of our farm’s 18 working dogs.

This experience for me was truly life-changing, and I would greatly recommend it to anyone who isn’t quite sure what they want to do for the rest of their life or who needs a break from the structured school system we have been attending all of our life. This experience had a major impact on me, and if I had the chance to do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat. I made dozens of new friends during my travels, in many different countries all around the world.