Career Guide

A gap year can boost your employability

Taking a gap year can help you discover your passions and chart a clearer pathway for your career which is aligned with your personality, ability and interests! Taking a gap year can help you discover your passions and chart a clearer pathway for your career which is aligned with your personality, ability and interests!

The last thing on your mind after completing SPM or O-Levels would be to study even more! Yet this is exactly what most Malaysians opt to do as the rat race begins. Fortunately, for the more adventurous, there are several exciting options available upon completion of your high school education, one of them being taking a gap year. This may sound like backpacking or volunteering in rural areas for some, but a gap year is really what you make of it. The flexibility allows youngsters to discover themselves in their own way, at their own pace. For those of you cringing at the mere mention of taking a break at such a young age, you are not alone. One of the main reasons Asians in general do not take gap years is simply because their parents do not allow it. In fact, the only choice most kids have upon leaving high school is to immediately pursue college and then a degree. While this method may work for some, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. It is counterproductive to be dragged into a course; resources are simply being wasted. Sometimes, it is a case of the blind leading the blind as only you know yourself best.

As the concept of taking a gap year is alien to this side of the world, there are some myths to be debunked and facts restored in order to understand it. As I have never taken a gap year myself, I asked Rhonwyn Hagedorn, who is currently taking a gap year to share her experience.

1 Taking a gap year is not reserved for trust fund kids

Yes, a common view of taking a gap year is travelling, which requires substantial funds. However, you could actually earn money during your gap year by working. A lot of kids pay for their college by taking a gap year to work locally or abroad. Hagedorn shares that the only parts that needed financial aid was her trip to the United States for the drum circle training and her trip to Cambodia to be part of a film crew for a documentary. In fact, she stopped taking an allowance from her mum as soon as she started her internship in December 2011. As opposed to a gap year being a spending spree, it can be a good training ground for teens to manage their own finances.

2 Gap year is just a fancy term for bumming around

Is there much to learn from taking a gap year? Hagedorn says, “From my internship I have learned communication skills, multimedia presentation skills, and basic office skills like how to write proper emails, and social marketing skills. From my drum circles I brushed up on my leadership skills, self-confidence and learned how to organise an international conference. The things I have picked up from my gap year are definitely skills that I would never have a chance to learn in school, not even college!” Indeed, college life can be so hectic; there is no time to pick up such skills and experiences at such an intensity.

3 Those who have taken a gap year will lose interest in their studies

In contrast, taking a gap year will help you discover your passions and chart a clearer pathway for your career which is aligned with your personality, ability and interests. Is Hagedorn geared up to hit the books again? “Yes I am motivated to get back to the study routine. I have started applying for colleges and I am awaiting their responses. My gap year has definitely given me a better understanding about myself and what I want to study because it has given me a lot of time to think about it. I’ve changed my mind about what I want to study three times! I couldn’t have done that as easily if I was already enrolled in college; it would be too expensive.”

While there are two sides to a coin, the benefits of taking a gap year are highlighted below. Should you require information on the downside, consult the mainstream. Taking a gap year does not necessarily mean living like a hippie or spending time at the Full Moon party in Thailand, although these are options! There are several key points to be noted before jumping on the bandwagon. Ask yourself why you want to do it, what do you envision to achieve from it? What experiences you want that will enrich your life? And whether you are prepared for it. The last point is especially crucial since 11 years of formal schooling has set most of us into routine and a path charted out for us. Taking a gap year means making your own decisions and learning from them. The contrasting experiences of taking a gap year really depend on the individual and his/her choices. Here are some points to consider when deciding on taking a gap year:

The chance to discover yourself

If you have always just gone with the flow and are clueless as to what to do next, take a gap year, Hagedorn advises. “Gap year means a time to think, observe, experience and meet mentors who can guide me. It’s a chance for me to get to know myself better as a person and also to explore my likes and dislikes, attributes, and what kind of lifestyle would make me happy.”

A gap year offers opportunities to do the things that you may not have been able to do when you are studying

I asked Hagedorn to pick her favourite experience and it turns out to be quite interesting. “The best experience was that I got to go to the United States for my drum circle certification! I learned so much from that one week and nothing else could compare to it. I couldn’t have done it if I went back to school immediately as the seminar always falls around exam time. So while everyone was cramming their heads for mid-terms, I was in Hawaii experiencing and learning other things!”

With this amazing journey comes challenges

Believe it or not, the main challenge is pressure from social circles! “I faced having people pitying me for taking a gap year, they all thought that ‘taking a gap year’ meant that my parents can’t afford to send me to college. But I learned after a while that I am doing what I love and no one can stop me,” Hagedorn concedes.

There are many options for those going for a gap year such as volunteering, travelling, backpacking, couch-surfing, working, internships, eco-tourism projects, starting your own business or writing a book. There are several organisations dedicated to people taking gap years and assisting them with information and ideas. Although the term gap year connotes spending an entire year on such activities, it can actually be as long or short as you decide it to be. Most people opt for a period of six months to 18 months but it really depends on the individual. This highlights the beauty of taking a gap year which is its subjective nature. Hence, two individuals are highly unlikely to have a similar experience.

Find out if taking a gap year is really meant for you. Life is short and it is the journey that counts. Make your journey meaningful by taking control of your future. Be open-minded and consider even the less conventional options when deciding what to do after SPM. You will be surprised at the results. Instead of living the dreams of others, live your own dreams. The world is your oyster and with time on your side, get ready for a fantastic journey that lies ahead. C’est la vie!

Radhika Chelliah is a tertiary education student that recently completed an internship and has a passion for trying out new things. She believes that young people will be able to reach their full potential if they dare to try out new adventures rather than simply follow the norm.