My name is James Hawkshaw and I am a recent graduate of the University College Dublin where I obtained a degree in Commerce. Before starting my degree I decided to take a gap year in Sydney Australia.
This is what I learned as a result of my experience there.
These are the four reasons why I believe everyone should take a gap year.
1. You get to live in, not just visit, another country.
There is a huge difference between visiting and living in another country. During a visit you may get a taste of what a country or city has to offer but you can never get the whole picture. A tourist may get to see the sights but by living in a new place for a prolonged period of time, you really get to know the intricacies that make a city or town special. By spending a year in Sydney I fully experienced a new culture and I have memories that will last a lifetime. I now have a place on the other side of the world that I can call home. Not many can say that.
Living in another place allows you to cross cultural divides and learn more about the inherent differences as well as the intimate similarities between people from other places. There is something exciting about meeting a person from a foreign land and learning that their interests are much more similar to yours than you previously expected.
2. You get to meet new people.
Of all the things I gained while on my gap year, new friends are what I value most of all. The people you meet while abroad are often a more diverse collection of characters than those you at home. It is through these people that we are made aware of new ways of thinking and different ideologies that can have an impact on who we become as we grow older. We become better informed about the world and the people that live in it. During my gap year I made new friends from Canada, the U.S, England, Australia and New Zealand etc… all of whom have impacted my life and my subsequent view of the world.
Due to the nature of living in a different country and the need for friends and familiarity, the people you do meet often end up being some of your closest friends. I have shared overwhelming experiences with exciting people and in these moments we forged a bond that was lasting. These friends can also become a resource later in life. If you do manage to catch the travel bug during your gap year then the likelihood is that you have friends in different parts of the world that will be willing to put you up for a night or two should your travels ever take you to wherever they call home.
3. You become more independent.
I took my gap year when I was 18 years old. At that point of my life I had never cooked for myself or for anyone else, washed my clothes regularly or had to save money or budget. All of a sudden I was out on my own and I had to learn these life skills, and fast. There was only so long I could survive on scrambled eggs and baked beans.
Having a signature dish seemed like the adult thing to do at the time and after much experimentation, beer-can chicken made its way to the forefront of my culinary expertise. It is a dish I continue to cook today when given the opportunity due to the novelty factor of shoving a beer can into a chicken before throwing it onto a barbecue! While it may seem like a trivial example, it was a time when I was forced to grow due to circumstances that were outside my comfort zone. Learning to cook is not something you ever think about doing until you need to!
Of all the skills I learned while living abroad, the most important and beneficial was learning to save money. I no longer had easy access to the my parent’s bank account. Instead, I was fending for myself. Travel and experience became a priority and therefore saving money during certain periods became a necessity. Planning my spending and sticking to a budget was not easy in the beginning. This meant avoiding the local Burger King on my way home. It did, however, result in new experiences in places and circumstances that I had only dreamed of beforehand. This skill has stayed with me and proved just as important if not more in recent years.
4. You have more time to figure out how you want your life to unfold.
Starting in university can be a scary time. Have I chosen the right course? Do I want to attend a local university? Where are my friends going? These are all questions that pop into our heads when thinking about beginning the next stage of our lives.
By taking a gap year, I learned more about myself, my interests and my life goals than I possibly could have imagined. Many questions that plagued my mind were cleared up during the course of the year. It gave me time away from the pressures that family, friends or teachers can inadvertently bring. I will admit that all of my questions were not miraculously answered by the end of the year. I still didn’t know what career path I wanted to take, but it did allow me to narrow my focus and eliminate a number of choices.
Taking a gap year can seem a daunting challenge to anyone. It certainly was for me. However I cannot stress enough how much it has changed my life all while affording me opportunities that I had only dreamed of.
While for some, going straight into college might seem like the only sane option, a year abroad can result in better self-awareness, growth and an abundance of exciting memories.