In my travel Tumblr: Illusion Wanderer, I have been asked several times about taking gap years. It seems there is a lot of curiosity on the subject matter and it also seems that more than ever the newer generations have the travel bug and are very curious about the world.
I will give you my two cents on the matter and will start by saying that taking a gap year is a great idea.
A gap year refers mostly to the time in between graduating High School and starting college but I would recommend taking a sabbatical to anyone stuck in a rut, unhappy with their jobs, unhappy with life, and everything in between.
I didn’t take a gap year, but after graduating High School I went backpacking in Europe with a friend for two months. During this time I visited 7 countries and I had the time of my life. I started college in September of the same year of my High School graduation, but my choice of college was about 6000 miles from home (Mexico City to London). So even though I didn’t take a full gap year, it was still a big deal to move so far away from home for the first time. By doing so I had to learn a lot about independence. If I had decided to go to college in the same country where I grew up, I would’ve probably taken a full gap year (instead of the 2 months of backpacking).
Is college really necessary?
I don’t think college is necessary unless you have ambitions like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. So many famous people didn’t go or dropped out of college. To name a few: Steve jobs, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and Elton John.
I went to college but dropped out. It wasn’t in my cards to be a successful and famous college drop-out but the other reason for this decision was my surrender to God as He guides me through life, but that is another story. I mention it though, in case you are a believer of God, then I would suggest you ask Him about your decision.
Why take a gap year?
I encourage the gap year because you will learn so much more about life that you won’t get in college.
Many people go into college not even sure about what they want to do and change majors several times. A gap year will help you figure out what you really want to do and it will help you learn about yourself.
You will gain maturity, self-sufficiency, independence, confidence, knowledge, and life skills through experience rather than through theory, it will make you smarter. Your consciousness of the world will expand, you will become more open-minded, and gain understanding of humanity.
What to do during a gap year?
Go do something productive instead of just get drunk every night and spend all your money.
- Take classes of the things that interest you
- Learn a new language
- Get an internship
- Do volunteer work
- Become an au pair
Even though I dropped out of college, I took several photography and filmmaking courses, and I took ballet classes at a University through Continuing Studies.
Fun fact: Steve Jobs attended a few creative classes including calligraphy after dropping out, which helped develop his aesthetic design for Mac.
Making money abroad
Making money during your gap year can be fun and is probably a necessity. I suggest making money and saving before you start your gap year; enough to get you through the first few months but then getting a job will help you stay abroad. I know several people who took gap years; a few went to France to learn French, a friend applied to work as a ski instructor in Switzerland, another friend went to Spain and worked as a waiter, and another friend went to the Czech Republic to work at a hostel which in exchange provided free accommodation.
Look for opportunities that offer food and housing in exchange for paid or volunteer work.
Tips for Gap Years:
1. Apply to college before you take a gap year: If you know you want to go to college, I would recommend that you make your applications and get accepted before you go off on your adventure. During your junior and senior year of High School, you will have a lot of support and help from counselors in your school to go through this stressful process. You can usually defer your admittance for a year by sending a letter to your college’s director of admissions. These deferrals are usually accepted.
1. Be open-minded: No matter which country you choose, it will have many differences to what you are used to. Patience is key here. Prepare to make adjustments to your life and give up some of your daily routine habits and favorite products.
2. Expect the unexpected: this one is a cliché but it’s true. New countries will always provide you with many surprises, no matter how much you prepare. Embrace and accept the unexpected; try to look at the bright side on rough days. Remember how much you wanted this and how truly amazing it is that you are emerging yourself in a new culture and were strong enough to probably go against a lot of people’s opposition to your idea.
3. Don’t be disheartened: odds are that a lot of people might not support your idea, they might even call you crazy and might be disappointed that you didn’t meet their expectations. Remember that resistance makes things last, and that great ideas and adventures require a strong mind and a strong heart. Don’t fall into society’s norms if your heart doesn’t agree. Those who love you, even if they don’t support your crazy ideas, will always be there for you when you need them.
4. Go with the flow: you may go into the gap year with a long year plan expecting to definitely start college at the end of it, etc… but don’t be afraid to change your plans. Go with the flow of your life abroad, with this attitude, you will open up many opportunities that you may otherwise be closed to if you were closed-minded about your plan.
5. Live like the locals: this is the best way to experience any place. Don’t go to the cafe where you recognize all the tourists, instead follow, literally, a local to their cafe of choice, or just ask if you don’t want to be a stalker.
6. Enjoy! Learn from mistakes, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.