The buzzing atmosphere of Shanghai and the serenity of Longsheng are etched into my mind. I can still remember my Chinese students’ names and what they were like to teach. The memories of a gap year seem resilient to the corrosion of time – they will be there forever.
It is safe to say I can’t talk about it without smiling. This tends to annoy some of my friends; they have heard the stories a million times. One (she knows who she is) even said she wouldn’t get the Boar this week because she would only be reading old news.
So what is it that makes a year out so fantastic – does it really change your life? Do you ‘find yourself’ having spent five months in Asia (or Africa, South America, Australia, wherever you like)? No. What makes a gap year unforgettably amazing is a selfish desire for a good time. Let me explain…
I spent three months of teaching English on my year out, two in China and one in Thailand. I admit I went with a very altruistic mindset. I wanted my students to become better at English so they had better chance in life; I wanted to be something of a saviour. What I found was unexpected. These children, who I was going to provided with wonderful opportunities through education, were so full of life. They didn’t need to be saved or given hope of a better future. They wanted a teacher who was fun, enthusiastic and who didn’t stick to the textbook!
I was amazed how keen they were to learn about me and my own culture. They didn’t want to learn the Americanised English that was found in their books. They wanted to know how I spoke to my friends, what my house and family were like. Not a single student said they wanted to use English to get a better job. What drove them to learn was an honest thirst for knowledge. They just wanted to see how other people lived.
As it turned out I think those children taught me more than I taught them. For the rest of my gap year I stopped looking for a moment where things would click and I know who I really was. I knew anyway. I was a young lad living the dream. I learned to let the burden of expectation go and thrive in every event. I won’t go into all the sights and experiences of my gap year – there are far too many.
I can remember almost all of them though. They all make me smile. My advice to anyone planning to go travelling – don’t expect the sensational or you’ll miss it. Just have fun and enjoy it, I’m already jealous of you.