Gap years: A year off from studies can take one a long way
If an Indian student takes time off for a gap year, his or her well-wishers will hope that it is for either the purpose of preparing for a tough civil services exam, or for the opportunity of getting into a professional course like engineering or medicine.
A gap year is advised for those who wish to follow their heart, and
definitely not for ones who will be looking at their financial losses
by not working or studying for a year
— Dr Swarnalatha Iyer
However, the Western concept of a gap year is more about travel, introspection, developing new life skills and broadening the mind. While this may be looked upon with scepticism by traditionalists, it’s being spoken about in hushed tones in student circles, and by a few parents, who are willing to give it a go. Our experts too give us a cautious green signal while stressing on financial security and goals—a gap year is not a merry holiday, we are told. We explore the concept with a handful of Europe-based students, who share their myriad motivations and eclectic experiences in their gap years.
TRAVEL & ENTREPRENEURSHIP
LOLA PEREZ DE CASTRO is 18 years old, currently working as an intern for Indulge. She decided to take a gap year because she was uncertain about what to pursue in college.
I started my year by founding a small company called Desdecero (‘from scratch’, in English) — a conference-based organisation that promotes entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, I worked to save up some money, and spent the second half of my year travelling through Europe, Peru, South India and Indonesia.
After spending some time alone, working and travelling, I have really gotten to challenge my aptitude and do some introspection. The most valuable thing I’ve learnt is how to live in the present moment. Wherever I am, I’m there fully.
"I got spit at by a lama in Peru and had an elephant step on my toe in Kerala."
MARTIAL ARTS WITH NEW IDEOLOGY
IGNACIO ARBEX decided that after 12 years of schooling in different countries, he didn’t want to immediately get into college.
I spent the first four months learning kung fu in China. After that, I travelled through Vietnam and Thailand, where I spent another two months learning Muay-Thay (Thai version of kickboxing). I finished it off back at the kung fu school where I had started.
I began my gap year as a pretty superficial person, but while staying with the monks in China, I learnt to be humble as I recognised there are immense forces in the universe which are far beyond what the human mind can understand.
"I volunteered to help the chef of a snake restaurant while I was in Vietnam, unaware of what I’d have to do. He cut a snake wide open and started yelling, “now you have to eat the heart!” I tried to resist, but the only way out was eating it. So I did! The heart was still beating and incredibly hot when I swallowed it!"
NEW LANGUAGE, NEW CULTURE
JUAN CAMILO GUTIERREZ took a gap year after finishing high school in Canada.
I knew I wanted to learn Mandarin and dive into the Chinese culture. So I spent a year living in Shanghai on an intensive Mandarin course. I had seven hours of Mandarin from Monday through Friday. I also travelled through Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and Mexico.
I learnt to appreciate the little things I had as well as how to be more open-minded about different cultures, people, and ways of thinking.
"The craziest thing that happened? I met lots of crazy people in China. One of my friends got inside a shopping mall with his scooter! I ate fried scorpion in Bangkok, and it tasted like chips! "
ANTHROPOLOGY & SOCIAL SCIENCE
JACOBO PARAGES was 31 when he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and large joints. Unaware of how long he had left, he decided to quit his job and fulfill his dream of travelling around the globe.
I went around the world for 15 months. I started off in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and travelled through Australia, New Zealand, most of Asia and some countries in Africa.
The trip changed my idea about human life. I realised that even though we tend to hear more about bad and corrupt people, there is an immense majority of goodness in the world.
I also learnt the most important thing to do in life is share. I currently work as a motivational speaker and teacher, sharing my experience with others who might benefit from it.
"I went on the highest bungee-jumping spot in the world (112 meters) in New Zealand!"
LANGUAGES & POETRY
PAULA BOZALONGO had studied two years of architecture in Granada, Spain, before she decided to take her gap year.
I had always loved literature. During my gap year, I published my first poem book and travelled a lot thanks to it. I spent most of my time reading and writing while travelling through Belgium and the Balkans. I also improved my English and learnt French.
For me, it was a perfect time for introspection, and getting to know what I wanted to study and where. After my gap year, I moved to Madrid and continued studying architecture.
I especially recall the time I spent at the Balkans with some friends who were also writers. Spending time away from home with like-minded people helped me regain the curiosity I used to have as a kid.
"Be sure to tell your parents before you tell your friends! My parents found out I was taking a gap year due to a third party... not a nice situation to deal with."
What kind of students do you think a gap year would be suitable for?
A gap year is advised for those who wish to follow their heart and definitely not for ones who will be looking at their financial losses by not working or studying for a year. It provides an opportunity to realise one’s true self as opposed to the innumerable self-constructs that the media popularises today. A gap year is a valid option in this day of numerous choices and high stress levels. Some students undergo a lot of stress in their high school years and feel that a gap year is the solution. This may not work. If the stress is not addressed in their break, they will undergo stress again when they get back to studies.
What do you recommended one should do while taking a gap year?
Taking a gap year is not like taking a long holiday. Many students travel. This is a good thing, because travel broadens the mind. But the travel should be with purpose, not aimless drifting. Also, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done during this year. While it could be a period of discovery, it should also be a time of research. You should take time to find out about yourself, but you should also be doing a lot of academic research on what courses you need to take up to actualise your true potential, and also be looking into the financial assistance you can get. All this takes time.
Would you recommend an aptitude test before taking a gap year?
An aptitude test is a must. It gives you a scientific idea about your strengths. The psychometric tests that you take help differentiate between interest and aptitude. Once you know what you have an aptitude for, even a little effort is enough to reach great heights. Ideally, an aptitude test should be taken after Class X, but if that hasn’t happened, definitely before taking the gap year.
— As told by Dr Swarnalatha Iyer,
consultant psychologist and career counsellor, Bengaluru
HOW TO FUND A GAP YEAR
1. Working abroad is a great way to earn some money while travelling. From teaching languages to being a waitress, there are many options and job opportunities overseas.
2. Start a crowd-funding campaign. There are many crowd-funding online platforms where you can earn large quantities by small individual donations. Check crowdfunding.com for more details.
3. Cut out unnecessary costs. You will be astounded to know how much you can save if you do this. Start by cooking your own food instead of going out.
4. Babysit and tutor. There are busy parents and kids who need help everywhere. Set an ad on your neighbourhood newspaper and get started.
5. Organise a garage sale or get online and get rid of all the things you don’t need.
6. Fund-raise and get creative! From making personalised t-shirts to washing cars or setting a food stand, fund-raising options can go as far as your imagination.