So often you hear about kids who discovered themselves on their ‘gap yah’ while hiking Machu Picchu and studying the art of zen in Tibet. My gap year, on the other hand came about simply because I was seventeen years old, fresh out of school, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
Were washing machines really as simple as my mum made them look? Was I going to make friends? Would I ever get through the mountain of books I was going to have to read? I didn’t realise it at the time, but my gap year was invaluable in helping me prepare for these things (and a lot more) at university.
First off, I travelled alone for the first time and flew to France to take part in the grape harvest. What do I do when I get there? How would I find where to go? What should I expect?!
For anyone starting university, these questions probably sound familiar. But it was useful to ask them because it meant that by the end of it, I’d realised that I could survive alone - much in the same way as I would have to starting uni.
This trip made me realise that when you don’t have to do something, it’s easy to feel like you’ll be no good at it. But when you’re forced into the situation, you’ll probably surprise yourself. Proving that you’re capable of successfully taking that first leap into the unknown is reassuring, and really helped me to prepare for doing it again as a fresher.
Next, I went to Italy to take part in a theatre festival. This time I knew what to expect. So, nothing to learn here, right? Wrong.
This was my first, if slightly extreme, test on getting along with flatmates. During that week I shared a two-bedroom house with eight other people, so we quickly learned a lot about tidiness and personal space. After this extreme version of shared accommodation, I knew I’d survive with only four flatmates at university. If you go on a gap year, chances are at some point you’ll stay in a youth hostel - which is a great way to start getting used to living with strangers.
Then I went stateside to NJ, America, where I was to work for a month. I was determined that I was going to make friends while I was over there, but I’d come from almost the opposite side of the world. Would they like me? Would we get on?
The answer was yes. It turned out I wasn’t the only newbie there. Everyone was in the same situation, keen to meet people and get along. It’s exactly the same starting university. Everyone's a little worried about making friends, so everyone makes an effort. Realising this was quite a relief!
Finally, I embarked on an adventure around Europe with a friend from school. One of my concerns about moving to university was finding my way around the city and working out where all my lectures were. Turns out, a great way to practice this is by first doing it all in languages you can’t speak! We visited museums, monuments, beaches, and bars, and generally managed to follow the foreign road signs surprisingly well.
We also learned that it was okay to ask for help and that most people are happy to point you in the right direction. By the time I got to university, my Google Map following skills were almost perfected and finding my lectures was a doddle.
Going from school to university is a big jump in many ways. One of the main ones being that you have no teachers to tell you exactly what to do and you’re expected to mostly get on with work yourself. I wasn’t sure whether I was up to the amount of self-organisation that this would take but planning a gap year is quite good practice. Looking for work, booking flights, even just remembering enough socks. I really had to take charge of me over the year, and that definitely helped prepare for doing the same thing at uni.
On top of that, if you really make the most of a year out, then when you get home, you’ll likely be quite happy to knuckle down and do some work. I know I was.
So, by the end of the year I just about felt like I was prepared for university. I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today without my ‘gap yah’ and my first year at university would have been a much steeper learning curve without it. I spent a lot of time deliberately putting myself out of my comfort zone, and as a result, it expanded considerably. If you’re not sure about becoming a fresher just yet, I highly recommend taking a gap year. Like I say, it doesn’t have to be extravagant and expensive to get something out of it. Any new experiences you have will make a difference and help you prepare for the next big step. It certainly did for me!