Sunday, 30 August 2015

BY definition, a gap year is "a year's break taken by a student between leaving school and starting further education" (Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, HarperCollins Publishers). A more contemporary definition would suggest a looser one, stating that it's the time a student takes to travel or work, often before heading into University or in the middle of a Degree; at time just to re-sit examinations. I'm currently at the end of my gap year. Everyone who was in my year of school is receiving their Uni results or graduating. If you would have asked me 3 years ago if I'd ever take a gap year I would have probably given you the evil eye. Looking back at the past year, however, I'd suggest taking a year out to everyone - and this is my testimony.

Taking a gap year before heading into University is by far the most common, especially in Britain. Usually the only reason students would take a year out in my country is because they have to re-sit some of their exams. You'd rarely find anyone who decides to go for it voluntarily just to work or travel. I didn't want to disappoint anyone when I came to make my own decision and I was extremely scared of what people might think. At the time my Sales Assistant job was just a part time alongside by University studies. Luckily, I never had to resit any exam, but I was never the student who fretted much when I saw a nice 60. For me personally it was important that I passed and got into the Sixth Form I wanted to, and eventually University.

University was an automatic decision after receiving my A Level results. My parents were so proud but during the course I found myself to be unhappy. In order for me to be happy and follow the path I wanted to I had to take a gap year so I can audition to schools abroad whilst working as much as I can to save up. Needless to say, had I not taken a suspension from studies, I would not have had time to study. It's not worth the bad grades. So then I took the much tough decision to finish my first year (by some miracle I was promoted to second year), and take a gap year after that. The plan was to return to Uni if my auditions would prove to be unsuccessful. I remember walking into lectures and seeing fellow classmates of all ages. I was sat in my first year classes with people older than my own parents and others who dropped out midway of another course. University is always going to be there, so no need to rush!

Despite the whole year having proved to be a challenge and sadly I did not save up as much as I hoped I would thanks to more activities and spending, I recommend anyone thinking about going for it to just do it. It turns out that I learnt more in the one year I took out of the classroom than I did in my 15 years of education. I travelled alone and with friends, I worked hard and eventually managed to navigate myself onto a happier path. It's amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you get on an unexpected journey. There's something beautiful about getting to know oneself and one's abilities. However, the number one reason I deem my decision to have been the best thing I've ever done for myself, is for the fact that everyone I know commented on how HAPPIER I've been. It's true. I feel more content and therefore healthier. I may not have been doing what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I spent a year figuring it all out and preparing myself to achieve my goals.

It's okay to take a gap year. The stigma about it in certain countries needs to drop. Whether you'll be travelling, studying for a re-sit or working, a year out of education can teach you  more about yourself and the world than you can imagine. It's not going to be easy, but I gained knowledge and happiness, and that's more than I bargained for when with my shaking hands I clicked "send" on that email asking permission for a break from my studies.

Good luck!

Maria x

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