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Purple Profile: ‘On a whim,’ Northwestern freshman travels world during gap year

Instead of applying to colleges, Medill freshman Anika Jhalani took a gap year and traveled the world by herself. Jhalani said she decided “on a whim” to take the trip, which took her to eight countries.

Source: Zahra Haider

Instead of applying to colleges, Medill freshman Anika Jhalani took a gap year and traveled the world by herself. Jhalani said she decided “on a whim” to take the trip, which took her to eight countries.

Zahra Haider, Reporter

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When Medill freshman Anika Jhalani arrived on campus this fall, it was the final stop on her year-long world tour.

Jhalani, who is from Saratoga, Calif., decided one morning that she would take a gap year before college. Putting off university applications, Jhalani left home alone to travel the world for a full year. Tired of the competitive atmosphere of high school, she was looking for a different experience.

“High school can become a rat race,” she said. “The way I envisioned college was an extension of that mindset, and that wasn’t something I wanted to pursue.”

Jhalani said she planned no itinerary and instead traveled “on a whim.” She went to Spain because she can speak Spanish, but after that her journey was spontaneous. During her trip, she went from country to country learning the languages and dance styles as she went. Describing her travel philosophy, Jhalani said she strongly believes “not having anything to do can be almost as important as having something to do.”

She said the skill that aided her most during her travels was her ability to learn new languages. She picked up many of the languages as she went without too much difficulty. She is now fluent in English, Hindi, Spanish and Turkish, and has a working knowledge of the languages of the nations she visited. Over a span of 11 months she visited eight countries: Spain, England, Argentina, Turkey, India, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy.

Her parents essentially handed her a blank check to the world, she said, giving her the freedom to decide when she wanted to go. However, Jhalani insisted it was not total freedom because she was financially dependent. She said of all the backpackers she met, she was the only one so heavily supported mentally and monetarily by her parents.

Her mother, Ruchika Jhalani, said they’ve always been a well-traveled family.

“I’ve always felt kids need exposure to different cultures,” Ruchika Jhalani said. “It helps broaden the breadth of their experiences and understanding.”

Though she did often worry, Ruckika Jhalani said that she trusts her daughter to make informed decisions and supported her decision to delay college.

“Anika’s journey was an education in itself,” she said. “It’s not something you can learn in a classroom.”

Anika Jhalani tends to joke about her experience because people see it as a “mystical journey,” but when they ask Jhalani what she did in that year, she has a simpler, more serious answer.

“I finally lived,” she said.

Email: zahrahaider2017@u.northwestern.edu

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