How do I address my extended gap year and unique education approach in a personal statement?

I am a nontrad currently working on my premed courses and finishing up my undergraduate degree in human science, however, my approach to school and the last 10 years of my life has been different then what I have noticed is usually discussed for nontrads and I am not sure how to make it all a positive for medschool or even fit it into a personal statement appropriately.

Growing up I always wanted to be a doctor (surgeon specifically, thanks to a children’s book I got from the library in grade 4 called Brain Surgery for Beginners). Out of high school I decided to take a year off to travel before jumping into university, and I went for one year to Uganda and overlanded down to South Africa. I volunteered in Uganda at a children’s school and lived rurally for 3 months before meeting up with other travelers and working our way down to Cape Town. I came home from this life changing trip with the intention of now applying for school but the travel bug had bit me and I decided that was what I wanted to do, keep traveling. In the meantime my parents had saved up money for me and my siblings to all go to university and they have always been very adamant that we all go, so they threatened to take away the funds if I didn’t use them. I found a compromise and applied to Athabasca University, an accredited online school in Canada. I traveled and took courses with me everywhere I went. I moved back to Uganda and worked at a rafting company on the Nile, and traveled all over central and east Africa. I lived there for another year, and then came home, where I promptly moved out to Whistler, Canada and lived there for two years, still while studying. While in Whistler I was given the opportunity to move to New Zealand, and so, after my two years in Whistler, I immediately up and moved to Auckland, New Zealand. I once again brought courses with me there and remained for a year. From New Zealand I came back to Toronto (my hometown), and spent a few summers working and studying more locally, before up and leaving again to do an extended backpacking trip from Pakistan to Europe going via southeast Asia and on the trans Mongolian train through Russia for six months. I am now officially home and settled in, focusing on finishing my degree after 8 years of on and off studying. I recently met a cardiac surgery resident and the conversations we had revitalized my desire to be a doctor. I have been working very hard the last few months to gain volunteer hours, research work, and shadowing experience, and have been focusing on getting my GPA competitive and prepare for the MCAT. I think it will be approximately two years before I am completely ready and competitive to apply, however, I am having a hard time visualizing how all this travel experience and unique approach to my 20’s will look good in a personal statement rather than lazy or avoiding work life (my source of money during these travels was always hospitality work). Taking distance education has been extremely challenging, and it requires a lot of dedication and determination as well as other important skills such as time management and discipline, and all the travels and interesting foreign countries I traveled to (always alone!) taught me so much about other cultures and about myself that I think are all beneficially but I don’t know how to show all this within an appropriate length of time. Any help would be appreciated thanks!

Just address why you did what you did, what you learned from all of your travels, etc. It’s a really interesting story, and it’s pretty unique to make you stand out. If you’re worried about seeming wishy washy, just hunker down and commit to school now like you seem to be doing. You can’t change anything now, nor should you want to really, so just rock your academics and MCAT and start applying.

Don’t write your personal statement now, but start thinking about how you can whittle down the fine points of your story, because I imagine you could probably write a book…

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