Value of the Gap Year

Source: Tripclocker

I have my dissertation turned in and I am in my last week of classes as a college student.  I should be feeling on top of the world.  Instead I have this feeling of impending doom that its time to face up to reality.  Release from the academic bubble means dealing with this whole ‘life after college’ issue.  When I called my brother last week in a minor panic, he recommended just planning one step ahead, focusing firstly on the summer.  So I booked a one-way ticket to Thailand. I’m not sure that’s what he had in mind, but I figured, if I was going venture into the ‘real world’ I might as well start somewhere new!

I’m not totally travel crazy. I like to travel and visit new places, try new foods, experience different cultures, meet new people etc.  But I am not one of those people always itching to move and the thought of living out of a backpack for months at a time doesn’t appeal. This being said, after four years of sitting in a library, I felt life was passing me by.  My older relatives are always saying how my 20’s should be the years to get out there and ‘live life’, whatever that means.

That’s all fine and well but it is really not that simple.  Every bone in my body is telling me to stick to the designated ‘path’ of high school, college, job. My more responsible friends warn me that a gap in my resume is going to drastically hinder my future employment opportunities. Relatives advise against tapping my savings with no income to replace them. But, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and deviate from the ‘path’. I have been responsible all my life, so its time to be a little reckless.

Upon investigation though, I am not really being that reckless at all! I actually might be doing the responsible thing.  Damn it, there goes my bad girl reputation!

Those who warned against taking a gap year, who fear the gap in the resume and the depletion of finances, are seriously missing out. In fact, many employers actually look for a gap year or travel experience on a resume.  Emma Gray, who decided to travel after finishing her degree, explains: “most potential employers aren’t put off by a ‘gap’ on a resume if you explain that you spent it traveling and gained lots of different skills”.  Lauren Juliff,  also points out that “Travelling changes you and makes you a better employee.  In terms of my own personal development, I’m now more patient, more tolerant, and more able to push myself outside my comfort zone and recognize the benefits of doing so”.

Real world experience is now a must for most companies.  They want well-rounded people, not just those who have spent their lives with their nose in a book.  In a recent article in the Daily Mail, KPMG said they believe that travel experience is key for graduates to get the necessary perspective to work in a global economy.  Other companies are equally impressed by the necessary planning and execution necessary for travel.   Christine Amorose explains while she was nervous about what quitting her job would do to her career path, “potential employers are impressed with my initiative.  I’ve managed to travel on my own, as well as find jobs in foreign countries.  It’s not the easiest thing!  I think confidence and problem solving that comes with solo international travel has been my biggest asset in coming back to the job market.  And I’m happily employed now in New York City!”

For me, I’m hoping my travel experience will give me a reminder about the other opportunities life has to offer.  In competitive universities, students start feeling like their running a race.  It is a battle to see who can get the highest paying, best sounding job.  This competitiveness is also not good for your health with an increasing number of final year students suffering from panic attacks and stress related health issues.  One of the big bonuses for Lauren when she went traveling was seeing a reduction in the regular panic attacks she suffered while in university down to a yearly occurrence.

I feel students need to break away from the competitive atmosphere in order to regain a grip on what is important to them instead of what they have been taught should be important to them. Of course I am generalizing here and this isn’t the case for a great many students but it is the case for me – I need time out to rediscover myself.

Emma had a similar mentality.  She explains, “I realized that I couldn’t give up travel to live the life I was expected to.  I already had my travel blog whilst I was finishing my degree and I decided to see if I could make a living from it, and from freelance travel writing.”

I get the feeling that I will discover many opportunities “off the beaten path” or maybe rediscover what it is I really want to do in the more conventional world. It may sound incredibly naïve and idealistic, but I’m not money motivated – I just want to live life and I want to be happy.  Maybe in a few months down the road when I am broke and stranded I’ll be singing a different tune.  But until then, bring on Thailand! And who knows maybe irresponsibility is the new responsible.