Is a gap year just an excuse for a long holiday?

The phrase ‘gap year’ receives different responses from different people. For some it appears to conjure up the idea of a work-shy affluent student who wants to ‘see the world’ before they are forced to get a job. To others, it represents opportunities to gain valuable work experience. So just what is a gap year, and is it worthwhile? Or is it just an excuse for a long holiday?

Personally, I would define a gap year as either of the above and everything in-between. I didn’t go on the traditional travelling gap year, however I did take a year out of my undergraduate studies to work in industry. But I have some friends who have been and still are abroad, either on their gap year, or some who have managed to make a life for themselves abroad.

To challenge the main negative preconception, I don’t believe that the majority of students taking a gap year to go travelling are affluent and avoiding work. Working and living abroad – especially further afield than Europe – can broaden your cultural horizons and give you transferable skills when applying for a job afterwards (if you come back!). From going travelling for only short periods, I know it is a massive confidence booster, so i can only imagine the benefit if you are a little shy of going away for an entire year! Many gap year travellers backpack, getting work where they can. This is a great way to increase your career flexibility and give you broader skills, and who knows, you might accidentally find your dream job?! Plus you also get to see new parts of the world, meet new people and try new things! So actually, although i imagine gap year travellers aren’t broke, they aren’t affluent either, they work abroad and use that money to enjoy life, whilst getting work experience. Sounds pretty good to me!

Of course some people use their gap year to get a ‘pedestrian’ job. By this, i mean getting a job not related to your degree. Due to increasing workloads and pressures on students, mental burnout (where you are mentally exhausted) is becoming more common, to the point where some people just want a temporary break from their field.  Because of how intense and hectic university life can be, this can allow students to relax, and give them some breathing room to consider their future in their field.

In my instance, i worked in industry for a year before my final year of my undergrad degree. I thought of it as a ‘test career’ – i picked a particular career i was interested in, and had a year to see if i enjoyed it and suited it, all the while knowing i only had to complete a year’s work if there were aspects i didn’t enjoy.

This, and my previous point about academic stresses leads on to my final thought. In Japan, there is a serious issue in the population of people becoming recluses. But why? These individuals, called hikikomori (withdrawn), are typically children, teenagers and adults who quit education – due to unbearable stress – but then are that ashamed of what they have done, that they can no longer bear to face the world. Some can hide themselves away for decades. So how does this link to gap years?

It is my opinion that gap years, and even ‘gap months’ in their many forms listed above, are ways for western students to counter the stresses placed upon us by our education. Regardless of the motives, even a gap year working in industry is a year’s break from education. Maybe if gap years were more prevalent in Japanese culture, they wouldn’t have as many issues with people dropping out so dramatically.

So is a gap year just an excuse for a long holiday? For the majority, no. It is a chance to gain some work experience, or some breathing room, maybe seeing some of the world and trying new things in the process. Gap years can have multitudes of benefits, and can maybe stop us going the way of the hikikomori…

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