It is fairly common in the U.K. for young people to undertake a ‘gap year’. Traditionally, this ‘gap’ materialises between high school and university. Many are unsure about what course they want to pursue or simply need a breather before falling back into essays, revision and exams. In my case, I was dead set on going to university and studying History at Warwick. As a rather shy and sheltered 18 year old, I was not emotionally or mentally prepared to explore the world by myself.
So off I went, straight back into education. Leaving home was terrifying but those three years of university were exactly what I needed to develop as a person; I built up my confidence, maturity and social skills. Of course when graduation began to loom and the cosy structure of education was beginning to fall away, I was hit with a sudden longing to escape normality and the constant requirement to plan, progress and achieve. The education system guides you towards an end-goal. This is positive in some ways, but it is cruel more than it is kind. Exams and essays are presented as stepping stones. You progress further and further up the mountain/ladder/cliff only to be shoved off the edge in the guise of graduation.
To go from eight solid years in education to another form of progressive mentality – the working world – was not something I was ready for
As cliché as it sounds, travelling was a way to find out who I was. To go from eight solid years in education to another form of progressive mentality – the working world – was not something I was ready for. It often felt like any experience was worthless unless it looked good on your CV. It was time to focus on myself rather than my accomplishments. Choosing to take a gap year after university was best for me and my personal growth. As a 22 year old I wasn’t battling with a plague of insecurities nor was I burdened with teenage naivety. In other words, I could really make the most of four months on a different continent!
Saying all of that, my travel buddy and I did get a job in order to fund this backpacking escapade. It was stressful to say the least. And for the harrowing six months I spent in a call centre I wasn’t able to spend a penny. It was all going towards one of the most expensive destinations we could have chosen – Australasia.
Now that I am back at home, thinking constantly about those four months in New Zealand and Australia, there is no doubt that taking a graduate gap year was the best decision I have ever made. Although I have changed more than I could ever have imagined and I feel completely unsettled, restless and anxious, it is great to come to the realisation that I can’t live comfortably anymore.
However, the euphoria of long-term travel comes with its disadvantages. Having been at home for a few weeks, I’ve already been slapped in the face with ‘SO WHAT’S YOUR LIFE PLAN?’ Not only did I have jet-lag and post-travel blues, I was immediately swamped with career concerns and the disheartening task of presenting my travels in a way that would attract a potential employer. It had gone from the most enriching and exciting experience of my life to something that needed to be analysed, pulled apart and explained. Recruiters are constantly questioning whether I’m intending to ‘swan off’ again, to which I desperately reply ‘No no no, back to reality now!’ (Combine this with a nervous/depressed laugh.) Therefore, does taking a graduate gap year set you up for an even bigger fall when you return home?
Does taking a graduate gap year set you up for an even bigger fall when you return home?
In all honesty, yes. But instead of falling and smashing your head on a rock, you feel like you are tumbling and bouncing relentlessly – there’s an even stronger motivation to do what you love and to work towards something that you will enjoy. Travelling fosters strong levels of determination, adaptability and ambition that employers should be looking for. Of course you can pick apart what aspects of your gap year show ‘team work’ or ‘multi-tasking’ and list these on your CV. But what I’ve found is that my desire to build a life, challenge myself and experience new things is more naturally occurring than ever. Those four months I spent not thinking about my CV were actually the most valuable weeks of my life! It wasn’t artificial or forced; I developed new skills organically and I feel all the better for it.
there’s an even stronger motivation to do what you love and to work towards something that you will enjoy. Travelling fosters strong levels of determination, adaptability and ambition that employers should be looking for
The label of ‘gap year’ tells us something about what kind of culture we live in. It is the gap in reality; a year that doesn’t count because you’re not studying or working towards the future. Obviously it is important to plan and progress to a certain extent; but it is also essential to live for more than reaching a specific stage.
It wasn’t a gap year, it was just my life and I’m going to continue working towards what I enjoy.