Whether you’re finishing primary school or you’re in your last months of year 12, you’ve probably at least considered what it would be like to take a gap year. Maybe you thought how great it would be to travel Europe, or volunteer in a developing country, or maybe just work and save some money, or perhaps you thought there couldn’t be anything worse than taking a gap year. Surprisingly, I was the latter.
Oh a gap year, WOW, I couldn’t think of anything worse, what a waste of an entire year when you could be well into your first year in university. Also, I thought, what parents would be crazy enough to allow their child to just leap out into the real world after being cocooned their whole life. Definitely, not mine. Or so I thought. But, alas, I was wrong, and here I am, half way into my gap year, sitting in Baskin Robbins on one of the busiest streets in Moscow. I was most certainly wrong, about a lot of things.
So here are some things you can expect from a gap year.
It will feel weird, at least, at first.
I remember at the end of February when all of my friends were starting uni, discussing their timetables and assignments; I don’t think I’ve ever felt more out of the loop. It’s a bizarre feeling, because it feels like everyone’s moving on with their life and you’ve just hit the pause button, and everyone around you is excited because they’re starting the next stage of their life and all of a sudden you feel completely displaced. This sounds dreadful but honestly, it’s also kind of exhilarating, because you’re doing something completely DIFFERENT, and while your friends are drowning themselves in buckets of coffee trying to finish that assignment they left until last minute, at 4AM, you’re trying to figure out what metro ticket will get you the most bang for your buck; the monthly or the 40 trips?
Expect to go through a stage of regret
You’ll have a day (or days) where you open up your snapchat and watch one of your friend’s stories where your squad is out for brunch, or at a party, and you can’t help but feel a bit sad. This will probably happen before you actually make some friends in the place you’re living in, and before you’ve properly settled in. And it is a bit sad, and you’ll definitely miss your friends and family from time to time, but trust me, it will fade away when you realise what an incredible opportunity you have to discover life outside of education, to create a new identity, to meet new people and learn about things that matter. You finally have the freedom to discover yourself, you get to learn that there is a whole world outside of the classroom you’ve been locked in for 13 years of your life. And remember, you only have a year, so the quicker you get over your ‘sad phase’, the quicker you can start enjoying your experience. It’s only a pause button, don’t forget that you’ll still be able to hit ‘play’ at the end of the year.
And now that we’ve covered the negatives, let’s look at the positives.
Dive into another world
One of the greatest things about travelling is that you start to understand how incredibly contrasting the Australian lifestyle is and its people. You might be thinking; well duh, but hearing about it is so different to living it. Even being on holiday, I never fully experienced the diversity of the culture and the staggeringly varied mindset and overall energy.
It’s diving into the deep end, and immersing yourself into something so uncomfortable, that it eventually becomes comfortable. And this is how we grow. All of this stretching and bending, stepping outside of your comfort zone, dealing with feeling different and alone and overcoming it; that’s how we become better people, useful people, and this is something that university can’t teach us.
Living alone and in a different city forces you to do things you’re not used to doing, and take up new responsibilities. In many ways, it also makes you appreciate home and your family more. You’ll definitely start seeing things from a different perspective.
Other than that, you’ll be communicating with many different types of people – this probably contributed the most to my experience. I was able to meet so many people who I probably wouldn’t consider talking to at home. Making friends with people in different age groups was very interesting. I never understood how much I was limiting myself by only befriending people of my own age. And through all of this, you become a more social and communicable person.
You may start to reconsider your path
I finished year 12 and wasn’t accepted into the course that I desired. This was extremely disheartening, and it left me having to choose between courses that I was very casual towards. When you go through your schooling life, set on one career path, it can be very hard to choose an alternative in the span of 1 month when you realise you didn’t receive an offer for your first preference. Or, if you have 2 careers that you’re quite interested in, a gap year might be great to give you some time to ponder them. Having that year of life experience can help you discover your better qualities and what profession you are more fond of.
Quality time off
When I told one of my work friends that I might be taking a gap year, she gave me this huge smile and said “That’s so great, I really wish that I took a gap year after year 12 because now I finish university and I’ll have to go straight into work and internships so that I don’t lag behind others.” This really made me think, because we really are always rushing through life trying to get ahead and make something of ourselves. A gap year is the perfect time between 2 stages of our life where you can take a break and not fear that you’re sacrificing anything. You’re still a teenager with no real responsibilities, so why not take full advantage of it?
You’ll notice how truly Australian you are
I went through my whole life boasting about how Russian I am. After spending 4.5 months in Russia, I really started to notice how Australian I am. No matter what background we may be, the place where we grew up has the biggest influence on us. You can’t help but feel a bit patriotic when you realise how Australian your thoughts, values and mentality is.
So if you’re considering a gap year, or are firmly against it, I urge you to keep an open mind and listen to your intuition, whatever it may be. You never know where life can take you.