The words ‘gap year’ can send a visible shudder down the spine for some people. The words can conjure up visions of ‘gap yah’ backpackers flitting around the world, spending two weeks in Koh Samui and saying ‘yah I’ve been to Thailand’. No you haven’t my dears. You’ve seen a teeny weeny Westernised bit of it perhaps. I’ve lived in Leeds for almost eight years and I still haven’t seen everything there is to see here, so how can you have ‘done’ Thailand in two weeks laying on a beach and drinking buckets of cocktails with neon paint covering your body? Hmmm. Sure you had fun though, I know I would.
What about a gap chapter? Or a gap chap, if you’re cool, man. Taking your time in one place, chucking that itinerary out of the window, getting to know your surroundings and then either staying for even longer or repeating the patten again when it suits you. You might not win the competition of getting the most stamps in your passport, but you’ll get the satisfaction of digging deeper under the surface of a new country. But with the economy in tatters, a lack of contentment and an increasing feeling of unrest within people, there’s never been a better time to jet off and take a gap year, gap chap or just a gap episode if you can’t commit to a whole year. Just think about it. You don’t have to be either side of your University life to take a gap year either, all kinds are doing it these days regardless of their age, background or the amount of money they have in the bank. Here are 6 reasons why you should take a gap year:
1. New experiences
I’ve already said that you’re going to be experiencing new cultures and societies, but I really think this is one of the most important things about taking a gap year.
Let me paint a picture for you: imagine going to a night market in Malaysia because you’ve heard it sells some of the best food around. You arrive and see there’s stall after stall selling the strangest little things, things you’ve never even seen before. All of a sudden, a local Malay asks if you’d like to try a deep-fried scorpion, free of charge. You’re a little confused and unsure whether you should accept, but you do because you don’t want to offend. It’s crunchy and doesn’t taste all that bad, a bit like a salty chicken. You thank the vendor (in Malay of course) and buy a fruit shake to wash it down. When you get back to the hostel, you bump into the guy who recommended the night market in the first place, and he asks how it was, and you reply: “it was like nothing I’ve ever done before – it was a completely new experience.”
And that’s what’s so great about gap years. This isn’t a one-off. This will be happening to you day after day, week after week, month after month. By trying out new things, you’ll also discover things about yourself that you didn’t know before – as strange as that may sound! You may for instance, find yourself funnier than you thought, or more adventurous. You may also discover some things that you don’t like, but in a way it’s a positive, as it means you can change yourself to make yourself the best that you can be.
2. The food
I was once faced with the dilemma on my gap year; travel to somewhere new or travel back to Thailand. Usually, I would always travel to somewhere new. However, on this particular occasion I remembered how good the food was in Thailand – I genuinely thought “I need some pad thai, I need some massaman curry,” and so I spent 10 days in food-heaven, eating fresh fish every day and gorging myself mad.
If you love your take-away, your curries, your Chinese, even your kebabs, I can assure you they’re simply out of this world in their home countries. You just need to get there.
3. The language
I can say hello and thank you in more than a few languages; I can order food in Chinese; I can ask for directions in Hindi. This may not seem that impressive (and it really isn’t), but it does make you feel good about yourself. Don’t go to a new country and be ignorant; learn how to say hello and thank you in the local language. The more you learn, the more the locals will respect and like you, and once you’ve won their respect, it opens up new doors. Who knows, you may even be invited out for beers with the locals!
4. The weather
When I travelled on my gap year I chased the sun; and there came a point where I couldn’t remember the last time it rained, or even the last time it was cold. It may be self-indulgent to laze on a beach soaking up the rays, but why not? If you want to to tan for a couple of weeks, then tan! If you research your trip then you really can chase the sun, much like I did, and get away from the grey and dreary weather that is undoubtedly outside your window right now as you’re reading this.
Screw this. Where’s the sun?
5. It’s good for you
One of the reasons why people don’t take a gap year is because they can’t see any value in it. Well, let me clear that up: there is value in taking a gap year and it can be really good for you – taking a gap year is a great way to gain life experience and employers are encouraging it. In a gapyear.com survey, 85% of the UK HR professionals agreed that relevant work experience was more valuable to a job-seeker than an average non-vocational degree and 63% said that a constructive gap year spent volunteering or gaining work experience overseas made a job application stand out. It really can make a big difference. Not only that, but you’ll have a sweet photo library and a load of stories that your parents have to find interesting!
But it’s good for you in another way too, as it shows you have courage: anyone can stay in a job that is safe and secure for their whole life. It’s easy. But does it make you happy? Have you ever thought ‘there must be more than this’ and wondered about ending it all (your career that is, nothing extreme!) and starting something completely new? What would you LOVE to go and do? Write it down if you can’t bring yourself to say it anyone yet, but keep looking at what you’ve written and keep adding to it. Then go and do it.
So, there’s just five reasons why you should take a gap year – and I could go on and on! People will always want to travel, to experience and to share; and why not? After all, life is short. Why waste your time doing things you don’t enjoy, so go out and have some fun…!