In support of the gap year

It’s that time of year.  The time of year when grade 12 high school students need to decide their career path and apply to a university and program then spend the next few months waiting in anticipation about what their future holds for them.

It’s the time of year when recruitment officers from universities do whatever they can to encourage young adults, kids really, to go off to university for whatever “innovative”, “hands-on learning” program that offers “real-world experience” they can convince them to enrol in.  And perhaps tempt them with a scholarship.

It’s the time of year when parents start thinking about sending their child off to university in the months ahead.

Well I never had that.  Because in my graduating year, I didn’t apply to university. Or college.

That’s right. While everyone else in my graduating class was applying to biology, pre-med, English and whatever other university program was going to lead them on the career path of their 19-year-old dreams, I was applying to low-paying au pair jobs in Europe.

I didn’t even send off a university application as a back-up option.

The year was 2000.  I thought there was too much to discover before heading off to university and becoming buried in student debt.  I couldn’t go off to university because I had no idea what I wanted to study.

Now I would be lying if I said it were an easy decision to not apply to university straight out of high school.  Heading off to college is one of the things you do. I knew I would do it. But on my own time.

So I bought a one-way ticket to Switzerland. I worked as an au pair to two sweet little boys and drove them around in a LandRover which I scratched up on a few occasions. I learned some French. I admired Monet’s masterpieces at art galleries in Paris and discovered Gaudi and Picasso’s amazing works in Barcelona. I danced and drank my weekends away in nightclubs, often returning home at 8 a.m. I cycled through passed chateaux and vineyards in the countryside surrounding the village I lived in.  I hiked through the Alps at every possible chance. I read the Diary of Anne Frank and then planned a weekend in Amsterdam. I suffered a deep depression.  I met people who were working in Switzerland for entirely different reasons than my own – to escape their war-torn countries. Thankfully I also learned about a career called public relations.

Heck, I loved it so much, I took another year off.  I was 20 years old and felt like I were learning more in Europe than I could in university.  But through it all I knew that if I ever wanted to be successful in life like that people around me in Geneva I needed to study.

And when I did finally enrol in a university program in communications, I never doubted my program choice. Not once. I didn’t waste a year in a program I didn’t enjoy.  I knew what I was doing. I was 21 then and had seen some of the world. I loved the electives I chose: History of the Aztecs, mass communications and cultural studies classes, history of advertising, and even an interesting French class.

So to the first-year university students who email me regularly seeking advise after regretting their decision to head off to post-secondary education due to pressure from family and friends or the appeal of a scholarship, I say this: Dare to do what you want to do. Broaden your horizons. You may just open your eyes to a career path you didn’t even know existed! Enjoy the good decisions and learn from the bad decisions. But most importantly, be true to you!

2 thoughts on “In support of the gap year

  1. I often think about what my daughter would do when she turns 18 (I stille have some comfortable 12 years left), and I wish with all my heart that she will take the time to live and travel before diving in university or whatever she will choose … The world is so vast and so much can be learnt ! I admire your courage in doing this Mandy !

  2. Mandy,

    Your gap year decision was very brave indeed, because it allowed you to better connect with yourself and with the rest of the world in order to find out your real passions and core life strengths. The self discovery life experiences that you benefited from shaped your sense of adventure and calculated risk taking in a way that enabled you to be true to yourself.

    I was not privileged enough to have such life opportunity. However, in the months to come, I am planning a “mid-life crisis gap year” through travelling in order to connect with my inner self and explore my true potential.

    Again, thank you for such beautifully written article.

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