Alumni Spotlight: Kiki Van Essen


Kiki van Essen is from a small village in the east of the Netherlands. She is currently studying at Green River Community College in Auburn Washington where she started last year as a gap-year student, and where she decided to stay to get her degree. She enjoys traveling, baking, going out with friends and learning about different cultures.

Why did you decide to do a gap year with Green River College Gap Year?

I decided to go to Green River Community College because my agency recommended it to me. I was relatively young, I just turned 17 when I came to the USA, and my agency told me that Green River takes care of students very well. They also offered a host family option, what was very interesting to me to get to know the American culture better.

When I Googled Green River Community College and saw the pictures, I really started to love the school, because it all looked so beautiful! The contact I had with the staff on Green River before I came here felt really good.

What was one of the most memorable days/experiences of the trip?

What I find very memorable is the introduction week for new students. Everything is very organized and the staff and volunteers know the answers on questions very well. We got tours over campus, went to a mall that was closest to school, and we went on a school event to Seattle.

I was sick during the orientation week and there were some people from the staff who were truly concerned about me. I got my own space and they contacted my parents to let them know how my situation was. This gave me immediately a very safe feeling about the school.

One of the introductory activities was CORE, an overnight camp. With this camp I slept one night in a cabin with some other new students. There were nice activities such as paintball and horseback riding. I met a lot of great people there and had a lot of fun.

If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?

If I could go back I would tell myself that homesickness is not necessary. The first 2 months I was really homesick but because of my homesickness, I didn’t enjoy my time at that moment as much as I would have wanted. So I would have fought a bit more against the homesick feeling. To prevent homesickness from happening I would have gone out with friends more often because I’ve learned that doing a lot of things keeps your mind busy and therefore not thinking of home.

I also would have done some more research about the location and habits of different countries from all over the world. That way it would have been much more fun to communicate about other people’s cultures. It can lead to some awkward moments if you don’t know anything about a country or if you are doing something that is accepted in your culture but very rude in other cultures.

Tell me about one person you met.

I’ve met so many people who I would love to talk about. My host parents got to be 2 very important people in my life. They’ve helped me through some hard times with homesickness and they tried to really create a new home for me and the other students living in the house. They’ve showed me lots of places around this area and recommended me many places to visit.

The staff member, Mike, who is responsible for my country, the Netherlands, is really important too. When I heard his marketing title, I thought it was only a person who recruits students to come to their college. This was absolutely not true.

Mike always wanted to make sure that all of the students were having a great time. Whenever I had a problem, I could go to him and ask for help, it was really nice to me to realize that I could always go somewhere if there was something going on.

How has this experience impacted your future?

This experience influenced my life in many different ways. I’ve learned lots of English, but that is not the most important thing I’ve learned. I got to know myself. Being in a different country far away from the trusted area made me realize how small I was. I got to know my own borders of what I want to do and what not.

Because of my involvement in school I got to see that I am capable of doing much more than I expected. I also had to get rid of some stereotypical images I had about different countries, because I found out that the way I thought about people isn’t the way that people really are.

I also know many people from all over the world and got to be close friends with them. There will never be such an opportunity to get this close (friendship) with people from so many different countries.