Get lost and go find yourself
“Gap” is an unlikely sort of word to describe the year you spend as seventeen or eighteen-year-old school-leaver “figuring yourself out”.
Then again, it’s an appropriate euphemism for the black spots you may experience after a series of large nights spent hamming it up in exotic locations with a bunch of strangers, very little money and no real idea of what you’re doing.
Or a good description of the waning savings and slightly stunted career-path progression you may notice when comparing yourself to friends who’ve opted to stay at home, when you return.
But none of that really matters when you’ve just finished school – your entire life is ahead of you, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want to do it.
Or maybe it’s just really, really overwhelming. So overwhelming that it’s easier to contemplate a year spent at home getting extra shifts at your part-time job or at least 100 kilometres from home washing dishes in a busy pub than having to make the “decision”.
Fair enough, there is a lot to be said for 12 months of living on your own and making your own rules, in some cases getting your first job and seeing places you’ve probably only ever read about.
Plus, you won’t be alone.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, University deferrals have been on a steady increase for the past five years, with organisations that specialise in post-school sojourns, like Antipodeans Abroad, enjoying a 30 per cent increase in the number of students using their services.
And why not, when places like Peru, Argentina and France are among the most popular destinations, with plenty of working opportunities in the sport and community development fields.
“It’s about doing a 180 degree about face from being in a classroom and exercising a totally different part of your brain,” said Colin Carpenter, managing director of Antipodeans Abroad who thinks almost everyone could benefit from taking a year out to “recharge” their batteries.
But if you’re one of the hundreds of young Aussies looking forward to year in the sun in 2011, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Life experience happens everywhere
A couple of the students interviewed for the SMH article said they were worried 13 years of education had left them without much else in the way of “a life”. Moving a million miles from home may speed up certain experiences, but life moves onwards regardless of “where” you are, the only important thing is that you get involved.
2. It’s OK to go your own way
Colin Carpenter says his first piece of advice to any school-leaver is to be true to themselves and get motivated:
“Be bold in your decision making and get out there. Don’t be a drifter and do something just because everyone else is doing that.”
3. There’s no rush
While taking a year “out” from real life will give you space for contemplation, always remember there’s no “secret path” to life, so we’ll probably never “figure it out” – year out of study, or no year out of study.
There’s also plenty of time to get on a plane, so don’t feel like right now is the last opportunity you’ll get to spend time in a different country, there are plenty of working holiday opportunities available for people right through until their early thirties.
4. Don’t forget projects at home
If you have your heart set on doing something different or giving back a little bit on your first year of freedom but don’t necessarily want to track too far away from friends and family while you’re at it, then don’t forget your own backyard. There are plenty of places, organisations and communities in need of your energy and a stack of good ideas right here in Australia.
5. Don’t get stuck
David Mitchell wrote a very witty piece on this subject in a recent column for The Observer and while I’d advise against a literal reading, the general sentiment is sound: overseas experiences can be just as stressful as everyday life, so don’t forget to pack your perspective:
“I took a gap year. It was the last stage of my tentative teenage quest not to be a boring person – or at least to deceive the world into thinking I wasn’t… I hear that a lot of kids have the same problem with heroin.”
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