For some, a gap year is all they dream of through years at school or work. For me, however, it had hardly featured on the radar until I had finished my A Levels and had already accepted a place to study History at the University of my choice. I’d written my goodbyes to classmates in the pages of our leaver’s year book and prepared myself for the right of passage that was leaving home for the first time.
Our last day of school banner
What exactly deterred me from this safe and steady route I cannot truly say. I’d never been a creature of spontaneity or particular daring until this point. Nor had I ever been encouraged by anyone to even contemplate a year out of the standard route through to employment.
My parents hadn’t gone to Uni, although they had come from the baby-boomer generation that believed in solid and continuous hard graft. The majority of my year had unquestionably chosen to head straight to higher education, and I knew no older acquaintances who had taken the path before me with whom I could discuss the costs and benefits of my choice.
All I know is that one day, during the summer of 2006, I was struck by an affliction which has since come to dominate my life. FOMO. Otherwise known as ‘the fear of missing out’. I turned to my mum on the way to visit my gran and said that I wanted to take a gap year.
She nearly crashed the car.
It took quite some time to convince my parents that my decision was a sound one. I was acutely aware that, while it was not truly their decision as to whether I took a year out or not, it would be far better to have them on board with the idea than not. They, after all, would have to house me for another 6 months and, potentially, bail me out when things got rough on the other side of the world. Although at the time it might feel like a tedious side show – it’s always worth having a supportive parent at arm’s length!
While, of course, last minute planning of this sort is certainly not the best way to go about sorting a year out, it did make me seriously consider the value of my choice. Why was I doing this? What was I going to do? And, most importantly, what could I make this year do for me?
After thinking long and hard about it, I realised in an unusual moment of clarity for me, that this was the perfect opportunity for me to begin to take my life in my own hands.
Until that point I’d had a wonderful, yet relatively sheltered existence. I had no real work experience aside from a paper round and a week or two helping out in a student letting agency. I’d never come up against true hardship or real adversity. In short, there was nothing making me stand out from anyone else in what, even then, I could see was becoming a hideously saturated graduate job market.
My whole year on our last day of school
My answer to this conundrum was, therefore, quite simple. Use a year while I still had the relative support of a home, family and friends, to do something and make something of myself.
I guess the question here is, what is in it for you? If you fancy nothing more than a year-long party – head straight to Uni or work - a year out will not do you the slightest bit of good (although it will, no doubt, be a blast!). Think long and hard about what you want to do, where you want to go and who you want to do it with.
It’s a cliché, but a gap year will undoubtedly change you. Not necessarily massively, or in any ‘Oh, look, I found myself on a beach in Thailand’ type of way, but in small ways that you probably won’t realise until after it’s all over. It’s surely worth spending a bit of time thinking things through to get as much as you can out of your well invested time.
And so here I began, with a relative blank canvas and a world at my feet… what next?