One of my first-world whines about the States is the discouraging view we have towards gap years. In the UK and other countries, they’re a rite of passage, and I wish they were more encouraged here. Recently, Malia Obama made the announcement she’ll take a gap year before beginning her studies at Harvard in fall 2017 which is so exciting because if the presidential family can normalize the concept then maybe we’re going places, people.
Literally. *Pah-dum, ching!*
This recent New York Times’ article mentions Harvard’s practice of telling acceptees to consider taking a gap year. Take a peek at Harvard’s gap-year page here… One of my favorite lines is, “Burnout is an inevitable result of trying to live up to alien goals. Time out can promote discovery of one’s own passions.” I’m not saying let’s be irresponsible, abandon our families and open a banana stand on some random boardwalk. However, our early twenties are the perfect time to discover what we truly are passionate about before we dedicate the next 45 years of our lives to working.
While I didn’t take a gap year after high school, I do consider the year I spent in Ireland to be a post-graduate gap year. It was amazing and it was the first time I truly questioned the way some things are run in the States. Likeee, WHY are we the only developed country in the ENTIRE WORLD that doesn’t have a mandated paid maternity leave? And what about paternity leave? Oh, hi Norway….who’s been providing that since 1993. On an opposite note about the just-birthed, we’re also the only developed nation who has a death penalty. Are you cool with being in company with Iraq, North Korea, and Afghanistan? Oh, but we have nothing in common with those violent, angry countries… right? I came back with questions and it ignited a fire within me to want to change things.
Whoops. That got a lil heated real fast. Where was I? Ah, gap years. Heh.
A gap year can challenge you and strengthen you, and sometimes it’s more about what you can give to the world than take from it. There are so many different things you can do to take on your world! You can teach English abroad in Japan through the JET Programme… work on a sheep farm in New Zealand on a Working Holiday Scheme… or even take a year to learn the language in France on a student visa. Why are we rushing into full-time jobs when there’s so much to learn about the world out there? Staying in our safe bubbles of American fun feels comforting, I know it does. And maybe taking a gap year to move across the world doesn’t suit at the moment, but in my time abroad I’ve met so many people who have taken it at 25, 40, even 70.
My gap year didn’t come after high school; it worked better for me to take it after undergrad. It’s never too late to take a gap year! If you read the above articles, you’ll see there are so many benefits to taking time to invest in yourself. Taking time to mentally reevaluate can be good for everyone. I mean, HARVARD is promoting taking a gap year… that’s got to mean something. So maybe it’s time for a change. New year, new do. Do what makes you happy. Do what will enlighten you. Do what will challenge you to grow. Smooth seas don’t make skilled sailors. Go get ’em captain.