Everyone should take a gap year!

Hi pals- I’m sorry that this post didn’t make it to you on Thursday as promised. I’ve had a really rough week healthwise: I’ve spent the week feeling like I’m being repeatedly stabbed in the stomach and punched in the back, which is lovely. On the bright side, I’ve got a wonderful doctor and I’m awaiting an appointment with a specialist, so things are definitely looking up! I know how lucky I am in the grand scheme of things, so a bit of pain isn’t really too bad. I’ve also had to quit caffeine this week: I went cold turkey five days ago and the worst of the withdrawal symptoms are behind me now (no more migraines, but I’m still tired and grumpy!). It’s strange to think of caffeine as a drug, but that’s exactly what it is- and I’ve been addicted for years now. Keep your fingers crossed that I can get through this!

Since this week hasn’t been the most positive or exciting, I thought I’d write instead about something very positive and exciting: the events of June 2012-September 2013… My gap year.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, here’s Urban Dictionary’s definition (so now you KNOW it’s legit):

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You might also be familiar with this video.

It seems to me that gap years have a really bad rep outside of the UK. A lot of people, when I tell them I’m a gap year student, assume that I repeated my final year of high school, or that I “didn’t know what I wanted”. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, and they’re both popular reasons for taking one- but not for me. For me, taking a gap year had never been a question. I had always known that I was going to take one, and it ended up being the most rewarding and exciting year of my life. As cliche as it sounds, I did a lot of growing up in that year and it was the best decision of my life.

However, a lot of people have scoffed at my decision. Here are a few comments that have been made:

  • “Well while you take a year-long holiday, the rest of the world are moving on with their lives…”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “You’ll be sooooo old when you get to university”
  • “What are you even going to do?”

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Let me learn you a thing or two:

  1. Though I took a year out from education, I definitely wouldn’t call it a holiday. I worked full time for most of the year, I gained a lot of valuable skills and connections and learned a lot about being in the “real world”.
  2. The point? Truthfully: at the end of my A Levels (the qualifications students in the UK get at the end of their final and optional two years of high school) I was burnt out. I needed a break from constant studying, I desperately wanted to travel, and I had already been accepted to university to study Linguistics- with a deferred entry. This meant that I applied when I was 17, got accepted when I was 18, but moved into residence on my 20th birthday. I spent the year that I was 19 on my gap year.
  3. As mentioned above, I started university on my 20th birthday. Did it hold me back at all? Nope. My best friend in first year was almost two years younger than me, and we didn’t even discover this for a good few months into our friendship. Because gap years are so popular in the UK, about half the people I met in my first year were also gap year kids. And one of the things I learned on my gap year was that age really is just a number! I have friends in their 20s, I have friends in their 30s and even 50s- and friends in their teens.
  4. Oh man. I had so many plans for my gap year. I was going to go to Nepal and teach English to children in a monastery, I was going to Mozambique to work as a scuba diver recording data on whale sharks, I was going to interrail around Europe. Two dodgy travel companies and a flaky travel buddy later, none of these things happened. Here’s what I actually did:

July 2012: I went to Dahab, Egypt for the second time with a group of friends and qualified as an Advanced Open Water Scuba Diver. Final dive at Moray Gardens.Dahab is my favourite place in the world and I am so lucky to have dived some of the most incredible reefs in the Red Sea. We made so many friends and ate so much delicious food during those rare moments when we weren’t underwater!

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August 2012: My family and I packed up our little house on a hilltop in Bath and moved to Toronto. I decided to come with them last minute after a lot of deliberation- I finally realised that the chance to live abroad and yet still be surrounded by my whole entire family was a rare gift and I’d be a fool to pass it up.

October 2012: I worked as a runner and general assistant with a film crew covering the Russel Tribunal on Palestine in New York City.IMG_1022 I’d never been to NYC before and had been dumped by text the week before, so this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life on so many levels! I got to be in the vicinity of some truly incredible people and heroes of mine (I also got asked out by a University Professor in the line for the loos on the first day of the tribunal, so that was cool).The most excited Jas in NYC!

November 2012: Started working full time in a tea store in Toronto. It was in that store that I met some of my best friends and most influential role models rolled into one.

December 2012: It snowed a lot.IMG_2547 I thought I was going to die from frostbite but I didn’t. I met a cool guy. He’s still around. The face says it all.

January 2013: I started spending more time exploring and getting to know the city. I didn’t get lost as often.

March 2013: Went to the launch of Chatelaine Magazine’s test kitchen and served tea to Nigella Lawson. Spent a month in Trinidad.IMG_3212 I’m half Trinidadian so a lot of my family is there, and it was an incredible trip. Lots of food, lots of sunshine, lots of beautiful oceans and lots of quality time with my family.IMG_3370

April 2013: Went back to Chatelaine Magazine and served tea to Curtis Stone. Lots of innuendos were flying around. I felt very awkward about it. He liked the tea though.

May-June 2013: Worked a lot, made a lot of money. So that was good!

July 2013: Left my job and spent a lot of time at the beach. Went to the first ever Toronto Urban Roots Festival and fangirled over the Cat Empire.

IMG_4265August 2013: Went camping in Northern Ontario with roughly 47 of my cousins and their families. Also explored Ottawa and Montreal, and totally fell in love with Montreal.

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September 2013: My Canadian pals threw me not one, but TWO surprise going away parties! I cried a lot. I spent a lot of time avoiding my empty suitcases. I went back to the UK, turned 20 and moved into my residence flat.

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When I am Queen of the World, my first decree will be that gap years will be compulsory. I became so much more confident, self-assured, and happy. I overcame a lot of things that had been weighing my spirit down during school, and most importantly I had the time to address them. I had time to read for pleasure! What a miracle! I was 100% certain that I wanted to study Linguistics, and I appreciated education a lot more having been away from it for a little while.

I truly believe that taking a year out made me understand exactly what I was getting into by going to university. I became more mature and inquisitive- traits that have served me so well since starting my degree. It was without a doubt, the best year of my life. Take me back!!!

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