What’s Next? Life After a Gap Year

October 17, 2018
Ben LeeGap Years

Truthfully, life after a year away from an educational institution feels as though nothing much has changed, yet everything is different. I admit that my statement does sound paradoxical – which is my intention after all, because I do hope you are at least more intrigued now to know what I mean. If you are interested in taking a gap year yourself, you need to know why this fascinating European idea is being widely advocated globally. And more importantly, what significance should we seek for a better journey ahead.

Lagging Behind or Moving Forward?

I started my gap year “escapade” being stubborn in not going into a university, because I was:

  1. Tired of academic pursuit
  2. Frustrated by the limited choices I had to pursue my passion
  3. Positively adamant that I can make something of myself, and
  4. Ready to take life as my new tutor

Before my gap year, I was planning on never becoming a student again, but here I am now – enrolled in a university, getting ready for the grind of the competitive world of academia back in Singapore. If I had not taken a gap year, my external environment would have stayed the same. The choices of a degree now have not increased, work opportunities are just as competitively scarce (or abundant), and all the new friends I have made believe in me just as much as my older ones. Yet, for once after a long time, I finally feel like I’m moving forward in life, even if I may be lagging behind my peers who are ready to graduate in a year or two.

What changed?

Well, it’s a no-brainer that it was I who have changed, and that should not be a surprise either. A 2015 report by The Gap Year Association shows that the top significant outcomes of gap years were all related to personal growth such as having more maturity, more time for self-reflections and being better communicators. In countries such as Denmark, Norway and Germany, more than 50% of students take gap years or apprenticeships before continuing their studies. And statistics have shown that these said individuals not only perform better in their future endeavors – be them academic or career-related, but also reported higher levels of satisfaction with their lives.

What do I think?

Now that I am nearing the end of my gap year, I can say for certain I do fit into the numbers, because not only do I possess a clearer sense of where I’m heading, I’m also more confident and resilient in tackling any matter that may come my way. Of course, this is not to say that a gap year can magically transform anyone to become a higher caliber individual overall – that would be a daft claim – but taking a step away from the rigid academic route is truly on its own magical.

A gap year is not just a breather per se, it’s a privilege and an opportunity to be concerned with your own being, to train one’s emotional fitness and to be engaged with the environment we live in. So often we strive to better our situation when we realize the rough patches in our lives, that we become fixated with taking care of matters in our external environment (outside of our minds and our hearts). Frankly, I believe many of us do not even really understand what our internal beings crave or how they actually communicate with us.

So, what’s next?

Obviously, there is no one size fit all approach to a gap year experience, but I know for certain, that when done right, we can all understand the tiny power within ourselves amidst an intimidating wide, wide world.

As of now, I am preparing for the beginning of my trimester without a hint of apprehension or fear. My part-time job starts the moment my gap year ends in a matter of weeks, and interestingly I face the task of juggling my life back in Singapore and my long-distance relationship in San Francisco.

But, besides having a more confident and motivated me to show for it, I don’t exactly have a lot going on to boast about. That said, I am the most content and determined I have ever been – and that satisfies me.

The main takeaway I hope you gain from this is not to expect a solid, tangible or presentable achievement after a gap year. Yes, some may land themselves with internships; others might be prominently out there vying to create skies of their own; but I believe the end goal of a gap year is not just to obtain something worthwhile to show people, or to constantly busy ourselves for more impressive resumes, but to also learn how we individually learn, and to be comfortable with our strengths, flaws and everything in between. Self-knowledge is hence undoubtedly the treasure to be discovered during our journey through a gap year.

Just as Alibaba’s Jack Ma said:
“If we want to change the world, we change ourselves.”

In short, expect to be surprised by your own growth and the elasticity of your mind after a gap year, because there is so much to be carefully nurtured in our seemingly demure existence. And I, have only scratched the surface of knowing who I am, and what I will come to achieve.

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Ben Lee

Contributing Writer & Cohort 12 Fellow

Ben Lee is an aspiring storyteller with a passion for writing and photography. He is a fervent traveler with an appreciation for the beauty in cultures, human behaviors, and his roots in Eastern philosophies. As a former ASEAN scholar who has since been on his gap year, he understands the challenges of pursuing an education as well as the joy that comes with it.

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