Tired of university? Take a gap year
Yes I know, a gap year is traditionally known as a gap between high school and university. But more and more often now, people are taking gap years in the middle of their university years and before getting a job. I think it’s pretty awesome (yes I did take a gap year).
So what exactly do I mean by gap year? No matter when you’re taking it, it normally involves not studying for one entire academic year. This means you have one year to go out and experience the world. Some people go to a completely different country to work, some go traveling, some do volunteering, etc. It varies from person to person; you choose to what to do for an entire year!
Gap years shake you up a bit. They throw you into the real world, into a world where Mum and Dad aren’t always there to fix your problems and help you meet people. A world where you have to feed yourself, wash your own laundry and find a place to live. An exciting first step into the adult world.
Here are some other reasons every student should take a gap year:
It’s a break from studying
You’ve just spent around 13-18 years sat on a chair staring at a wall. It’s time for some movement. And I don’t mean getting up at 6 am to go for a hike – I mean getting out there. Getting out of your comfort zone and leaving your house, your town and even your country behind.
Studying hardens the mind. You get accustomed to learning through books, lectures and tutorials. You believe that there is one way to study and educate yourself and that’s what will get you your degree, your job and your future. Well nope. Education doesn’t just come from books, it also comes from people, from culture, from places. And taking a gap year helps you realise that there is a lot more to life than just studying and working.
You get to see the real world
My trip to China was the first time I ever left Europe. At first I was extremely excited: I was finally free and traveling the world. Then I got to China – everyone looked different, no one spoke English and I knew nobody. For the first time, I got scared. Fast forward 5 months and I made an amazing group of friends, spoke a bit of Chinese and had could use chopsticks like a ninja.
What I’m saying is that a gap year that throws you into another culture is the best way to get a good look at what the ‘real world’ is and compare it to your own culture. It’s like a reality wake up call.
Wait, not everyone eats with knives and forks? And not everyone cares about the Holocaust (there are Nazi symbols everywhere in China)? And people earn that amount of money in the corporate world?
When you start to understand that different people live in different ways, you realise you don’t have to be like everyone back home. You realise that you don’t even have to follow society’s standards if you don’t want to. Reality is that everyone’s different, and there is no ‘right’ way to live.
This is great help if you do your gap year after university – it will give you more ideas on your future, what you see yourself doing for the next 5 years and what it is you actually enjoy doing.
You develop cool skills
Not only could you learn a new language and some cultural knowledge, but learn some great social skills.
Before my gap year I was this shy, insecure girl who had a lot of pent up frustration, sadness and ignorance inside of her. I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted to do, what was right and what was wrong. During my gap year I learnt how to talk to strangers, how to make good friends and survive completely on my own.
Moving to another country to work/travel/volunteer helps you build the skill of adaptation, of coping with language barriers and making new friends. You need to learn how to deal with this new currency, new living arrangements and different type of work. You suddenly realise you need to go out there and meet people. At first it’s scary, but then you realise that they’re just like you: trying to make friends.
This helps build confidence. You know how to talk to strangers, how to have a conversation and build a relationship. A very valuable skill, no matter which degree or job you’re going into.
You learn about the stranger
Who’s the stranger? You.
I knew nothing about myself before taking a gap year. I didn’t care, I didn’t want to know, a part of me was even slightly ashamed I existed. Traveling and working for one year taught me more about myself than the 17 years of my life.
Why? You learn how you respond to different situations and how you deal with them. You learn what kind of people you’re attracted to, what you appreciate in a culture and what gets you excited. And best of all, you learn what you want/need to improve on. ‘Oh, so I get awkward talking to other young people on planes. Next plane ride, I’m doing it!’
All these years of school separates the student from their identity. Too many times you’re just a number, a person who will get x grades and will graduate on x year to then go and work at x job. But you’re much more than that; you’re someone who has thoughts, opinions, ideas and dreams. And taking that gap year will help you develop those.
I didn’t know I was into finance until someone I met in Shanghai recommended me a book (Rich Dad Poor Dad), which I then read in one night and immediately proceeded to change my life. What if I hadn’t gone to Shanghai? What if I hadn’t taken a gap year? This website wouldn’t exist, and neither would many of my current ambitions.
And you know how important it is to get to know yourself: you are the person who will be getting a job! You are the person who will have a life and enjoy it! Better get to know that person before it gets old and doesn’t care.
You suddenly stand out
You’ve developed all these amazing skills, you’ve seen amazing places and you now know what you want to work/study in. You can’t say that won’t be attractive to an employer.
If you were working/volunteering abroad, it will look great on your CV. It demonstrates that you have developed the skills I mentioned before: ability to adapt, ability to try something new, ability to be different. These are all skills companies value and will take into account. And if you feel they won’t, I wouldn’t apply for that company in the first place (boring!).
More and more people are taking gap years in the UK, so you may be thinking ‘how do I stand out if everyone else is doing them?’. That’s the beauty of gap years: you get to choose how to do it. No two gap years will be identical – everyone will learn different lessons, will develop different skills and will come back a different person. So don’t worry about not standing out.
You develop amazing relationships
The last but not least amazing thing about gap years is the relationships you will make.
In my case, it was with other expats. We’re all trying to survive in this unfamiliar country with a completely different language, habits and writing. It creates very strong bonds with people, and I’m still in contact with many of my friends from over there.
No matter what you decide to spend your gap year doing, you will meet a huge variety of people, because you’re traveling! This huge variety means that you’re more likely to meet someone you get on really well with, creating a long lasting friendship.
The strange situations you find yourself in, the funny experiences, these are all things that build strong relationships with people. And these are the friends who help you get to know yourself, who will help you develop your opinions, ideas and dreams. And they may even go on to help you find a job (#networking). Keep those friends.
I haven’t met a single person who says they regret taking their gap year. And you don’t have to spend a ton of money to do it – there’s au pairing, workawaying and many work-study programs. You could probably do it for free if you hustled a little.
Everyone gets something valuable from that year off, whether on purpose or not. You finish that year refreshed, with a new set of skills, a better understand of what you want to do and with great memories and friends. For this reason I say: PLEASE take a gap year. Do it for yourself – you’ll be forever grateful.