Questions & Answers with community faces
As the temperatures rise and the days lengthen, spring gives way to summer. For many Benzie County teenagers, that means high school graduation and the big transition to universities and colleges, whether that be at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, at a school downstate, or at an Ivy League school on either the East or West coast.
But college immediately after high school is not for everyone. Taking a gap year—also called a “sabbatical year”—has become increasingly popular. During this time, students may participate in academic courses, learning a trade, language studies, art studies, volunteer work, travel, internships, sports, and more. Oftentimes, gap years are described as a way for students to become more independent and to learn more about their interests before engaging in university life and picking a major and/or a profession.
Last year, The Betsie Current profiled Liv Buzzell, a 2015 Frankfort graduate who was embarking on a gap year to the Netherlands. Deciding that we would like to see what is on the other side of this coin, we are now profiling Bailey Barnes, a 2015 Benzie Central graduate who just returned from her gap year.
Barnes’s life and family are firmly rooted in Benzie County. Her maternal grandfather was Alan Vigland, who owned the Vigland Gallery in Benzonia, and her father is serial entrepreneur Jim Barnes, owner of Eco-Building Products, Elberto’s Taqueria, and Crystal Lake Catering, and former owner of Northern Delights and The Roadhouse Mexican Bar & Grille. Young Bailey Barnes chose to stretch her wings to see what awaited on the other side of the world, but now she’s back.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with 19-year-old Bailey Barnes when she returned from her overseas travel earlier this month.
The Betsie Current: What did you do after graduating last spring from high school?
Bailey Barnes: I worked at Elberto’s Taqueria and Crystal Lake Catering Company through Labor Day. In early September, I left for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), where I spent three months on an “expedition.” During my expedition, I rock climbed, white-water kayaked, rafted, canoed, canyoneered, winter camped, and backcountry skied in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Utah. This experiential education actually earned me 16 college credit hours, plus Wilderness First Aid certification, Leave No Trace training, and Avalanche Awareness training. Intangibly, my NOLS experience taught me self-awareness, self-confidence, leadership, risk-assessment, and risk-management skills. After three months of exploring and studying, I returned home for two and a half months to work for Eco-Building Products. On February 14, I began a solo backpacking trip for two and a half months throughout Europe. I began in Istanbul, Turkey. From there, I visited Greece, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway—many of these countries I chose because I could visit friends who were on gap year themselves [Liv Buzzell in the Netherlands] or who I met when they studied abroad at Benzie [Elliot Taguchi in Denmark and Emma Husøy in Norway; profiled in the second issue of The Betsie Current in 2015].
Current: Why was going on a gap year important to you? How did you fund it?
Barnes: I took a gap year because I needed time between schooling to rest, learn about myself, go beyond my comfort zone, live outside of Michigan, camp, travel, meet worldly people, eat tasty food; the list goes on and on. To sum it up, I was hungry for an adventure—one that I didn’t feel like college/university could provide for me. As a young child, I never thought much about college. As I got older, my lack of interest never changed. I knew that I wanted to do something, and I knew it wasn’t going to be immediately college. I added it up, and it was roughly $22,000 to take a gap year and do what I wanted to do. I funded it mostly by years and years of saving money—I started working for my dad when I was 11 or 12, and over the years, I always put it into savings. I hate spending money. Also, through NOLS, I was able to receive $3,500 worth of scholarships. And, of course, my Bailey’s Burrito Campaign, birthday, holiday, and high school money also played a role in covering the costs.
Current: What did you learn about yourself over the past year?
Barnes: I am capable of more than I ever thought I was. Growing up, I wasn’t anxious, but I was often—let’s say—wary, doubtful, concerned, etc. I let my concern and second-guessing hold me back a lot; I didn’t take up as many options as I could have. But during my two trips, I’ve done so many things that put me way, way out of my comfort zone. I did things that I never thought I’d do in a million years. It has been an incredibly powerful experience in my life, overcoming this obstacle. Sometimes, especially now that I’m back home, I feel my concern taking over again. It’s not gone, by any means, but it has become less controlling of my mindset and my actions.
Current: What are your plans now that you’re back in Northern Michigan?
Barnes: I got back in May. I moved home to enjoy my family, to once again work, and—of course—to enjoy the beautiful summer. Now that I’m back, I intend to work and plan for my next adventure abroad… The plan now is to take another year to travel. I’m currently thinking about backpacking Chile or New Zealand.
Current: What is the hardest part about being young in Benzie County? What are the biggest challenges and rewards of working and living here?
Barnes: The hardest part of growing up in Benzie is also what makes Benzie so great—comfort and reliability. Sometimes, I find that when I’m comfortable and at ease, I lose motivation to move forward and better myself. It’s just too easy to enjoy the comfort and forget all that’s going on in the world. The challenge, for me, in the business that I’m in, is the short season in which I have to make my living. Since the time period is so short, the summers can be both emotionally and physically tiring. But, once again, that’s also the reward; I can work hard all summer and then take four or five months off to travel, without losing my job or feeling guilty about missing work.
Current: What else does Benzie County need?
Barnes: Benzie County needs to keep encouraging youth to follow their dreams and passions. We need to teach kids that there are more options than going straight to college.
Current: What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes? What are some ways that you give back to the community?
Barnes: I recently got involved with Crystalaire Adventures. At age 17, I took a trip to Isle Royale through Crystalaire Adventures; it was a 12-day excursion that was truly an eye-opening experience for me. It sparked my love for backpacking. After I returned from NOLS last fall, I began the application process with Crystalaire and was offered a job to lead six children in the wilderness for five days this coming August. I am looking forward to this new opportunity, because I find great peace and pleasure in the wilderness, and I am more than excited to share my love for the outdoors with children.
Current: What is your proudest achievement?
Barnes: I have two—both of the trips that I took during my gap year. I spent three months thriving in Wyoming and Utah’s wilderness, and then I backpacked through Europe. These two experiences taught me so much, and I’m so appreciative for what I’ve learned.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities?
Barnes: The farmers’ markets, both Elberta and Frankfort. I really enjoy making the rounds twice a week, saying hello to local farmers, and seeing all of the delicious and fresh produce. Sometimes, I even get to hear the amazing Liv Buzzell playing lovely tunes. I also love walking on the beach, bonfires, singing, knitting, drawing, laughing…
Current: What’s your perfect spring day look like in Benzie County?
Barnes: The perfect spring day for me is 60 degrees with sunny skies and a slight breeze. I’d enjoy a lovely breakfast with hot tea. I’d go on a hike or ride or kayak, and then have a picnic. Later on, I would go back home to eat dinner with friends and family. To end the evening, my we’d do some sort of craft- or art-like activity and watch a movie or listen to music.
Current: What would you tell others who are thinking of going on a gap year?
Barnes: Always strive for more and never stop moving.
Elberto’s Taqueria opens on June 16. Trips this summer with Bailey and Crystalaire Adventures are still available; check out CrystalaireAdventures.com for more information.
Bailey Barnes, manager at Elberto’s Taqueria, just returned to Benzie County after a gap year spent in the Rocky Mountains and abroad. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.