A gap year is both a state of being and an adventure. It is a gamble and an investment. It is about pulling up stakes and discovering the world overseas. It can be a grand whirlwind of travel or a simple trip overseas. But no matter what kind of gap year you choose or the reasons for a gap year, this choice is about discovery and growth. For Neil and I, we’ve done two gap years. But no matter what or when you do yours, a good GY is about breaking from the mainstream, unplugging to learn, and most importantly travel.
Gap Year After University
Neil and I met as undergraduates, studying English literature and dreaming about traveling the world. After completing university, we unplugged from a prescribed American life of “graduation and work place”. Instead, we moved to Japan and taught English as a foreign language. Working with two companies outside of Nagoya City, we were able to save up money for a backpacking bankroll. But more importantly, we were able to immerse ourselves in an expat community of young professionals. We worked together, lived together, and explored Japan as wayward travelers who did not speak the local language. Not bad for two English majors working their first real jobs.
After 14 months of work and eating in Japan, we backpacked homeward for 4 months and visited ten countries. After returning home Neil and I both obtained teaching degrees and licenses. When I applied for a teaching position in a prestigious public school, my experiences in Vietnam fascinated the principal and led to a second round interview and a formal job offer.
Gap Year as a Career Break
My first job as a full time teacher in the suburbs of NYC was a whopper. It was high paying, positive, and secure. While there, I received two grants and worked as a technology trainer for the seventh and eighth grade teachers. I worked toward a premium pay scale called MA 30+, meaning I’d earned 30 university credits above my required Master’s degree in Education. I had my own classroom with large windows opening to green trees and a full suite of computers to compliment a mounted Smart Board and projector. From the outside, my career was impressive. But I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t growing. I watched my students learn every day and questioned whether I could say the same for myself. I wanted adventure. I wanted to write. And I wanted time to do both.
So I quit.
Currently, I am in my second calendar year of a career break from teaching. I’ve traveled to eight countries and eight US states. I’ve started drafts on a fantasy trilogy called King Solomon’s Rings and a science fiction novel called Swarm. My freelance work is warmly accepted by four online travel magazines and I’ve been to Italy and the Galapagos Islands for free. I’ve made lifelong friends and so many memories that my one terabyte hard drive is stuffed with over 10,000 pictures.
But most importantly, on this current gap year, I am building my resume for the next interview. I’m expanding a skill set and experimenting with SEO writing and editing. I am learning about the blogosphere and the nature of freelance writing as a living. I work with my husband and I write in cafes and common spaces. I sleep in hotels or apartments and wake up in cities like Buenos Aires and Santiago. And I can say everyday that I am learning, that I am growing.
A good gap year gives you time to grow as an individual, to allow you to say with pride: I did that! It makes you more confident, gives you international friends, and ripples into your professional life. It makes you distinguishable. A good gap year teaches you something new and will make future employers raise eyebrows when you say: This one time in Peru, I configured an entire English language program for volunteers at Aldea Yanapay.
During a good gap year, you’ll be surprised how far you’ll go.