On The Brink: The Awesome And Scary Truths Of Gap YearsMarch 09, 2013
I never really equated the idea of gap years with fear and anxiety until this year, when I graduated from college and began my own. They always seemed like such a great idea- who wouldn't want to take a year off from the grunge and grime of school and work to travel abroad?
I never really realized the uncertainty that went along with leaving safety, support, and the negligible financial security that I had to do something different and a little scary. So, if you're about to take a gap year, I've combined a few truths about the process that I've discovered so far.
1. Your family and friends will not understand gap years.
After explaining countless times what exactly you'll be doing for the next year, you will be asked the same question: "Will this lead to a job?" or "Will this help you get into grad school?"
People still don't understand what exactly it is that you are doing. While it can be frustrating as you want your family and friend's support in whatever you do, it's good to try and understand that gap years are a relatively new idea and that your family only wants the best for you.
2. Gap years are difficult to plan.
Even with awesome programs that help you find housing and funding, gap years feel enormous as you're trying to plan them! Even if you are able to plan the major movements of your trip, there are still tons of little things that are difficult to do with a shoestring budget and a new set of living situations. When I was trying to plan out my series of travel, I also had to grapple with what I was going to do with my car for an entire year or would it be more sensible to buy new cell phones abroad or just use Skype. These small worries coupled with the much larger worries to make quite a logistical headache.
3. Even if you're doing something awesome, you will still wonder if you've made the right decision.
I know that teaching English in Malaysia will be one of the greatest experiences of my life. However, I often still wonder whether I made the right decision to delay grad school. These days, the economy is rough- and that is scary in itself. The one thing that gap years don't usually have is security, and as security is something that is hard to come lately, this will definitely keep you awake on more nights than just one.
4. More than likely, you're going to be totally broke.
Most of the time, it's hard to have any income at all coming in during a gap year, especially if you're volunteering or interning. I've been lucky enough to plan temporary jobs along the way, but it's still amazingly difficult to deal with the occasional safety deposit or lost train ticket. When traveling abroad with no job, it's hard to figure out just how much money that you'll spend every single day. There are, of course, great budget savers like Couchsurfing and eating street food, but there's always something new to account for!
5. You're going to feel like you're a year behind.
It's hard, when coming back, to face the reality that your friends who have been in school with you are suddenly a year ahead. They could have more stable jobs, or else be one year into a great college program. This is hard to deal with, especially for perfectionists like me! This is especially difficult if you're taking a break before your undergraduate degree or else are starting a longer program like a PhD program that will have you in school for even longer.
Okay, so now that I've thoroughly depressed anyone considering a gap year, I have some seriously awesome truths that you need to consider. I think you'll agree that the awesome truths outweigh the scary ones in this case.
1. You will have an amazing time!
No matter how worried you are about being behind in school or your job search, it will be hard to deny that your experiences abroad are simply amazing and totally worth any of the other scary truths. Why? Because it won't be the couple of semesters that you missed that you think about when you remember your awesome gap year experience. Also, who in the world can stand on Mt. Kilimanjaro and say "I'd rather be in Calculus"?
2. After you finish it, you will never regret your gap year.
Your gap year will be what Returned Peace Corp's Volunteers' service is to them- one of the high points of your life. The marks that your adventure will make on your are permanent and will be a part of the awesome person that you become. Volunteering, working, or even just living abroad will give you new insights into life that you wouldn't have had otherwise and this will be obvious to you as your continue your career. Living abroad requires people to test themselves and to grow in ways that they didn't even think possible.
3. Gap years make for well-rounded employees and well-settled scholars.
Taking a gap year simply gives you a little more time to think. Whether you're planning on going into the workforce or going to college or grad school, taking a year off gives you some serious time to consider what exactly it is that you want to do. Instead of rushing into an education or career choice, you give yourself the time to consider what is valuable in your future.
4. Gap years make for awesome elevator conversations!
You don't have to work at the Peace Corps to meet people who love travel and love to hear about it. Travel is something that unites many people and can serve as a great way to connect with other employees or students. Even if they've never even heard of the place that you lived, they will have something to share with you about your experience.
5. You totally have the time- and probably won't again. So do it!
Gap years are strategic times when you have the time to put everything off for a little while so that you can chase your dreams. Honestly, this opportunity probably won't come again, so why let it go? While travel isn't just for the young, youth is a great way to enjoy adventure that will be much harder when you have a family and a mortgage.
Scary truths and awesome truths aside, your gap year will be whatever you make it! So, go out there, be informed, and allow yourself to be stretched as you encounter new ideas, cultures, and ways of saying hello!
Photo credits: dhmar, LadyDragonflyCC