Last week I wrote about the opportunity of studying in the United States, this has become very popular, especially with sport scholarship students. Here at MTA we have seen an increased requirement for American entrant’s examinations / SAT support in the recent years. Studying in another country of course gives a student a wonderful chance to grow and develop in another culture and education system. However, it is not for everyone and some young adults may still want to continue their higher education in their home country, UK or Spain.
My daughter decided that she wanted to move straight into tertiary education and to pursue her desire to become a journalist so taking a year out for her was never an option. However, she now tells me that she will travel once her degree is finished and undertake some voluntary work for a twelve month period. For others, who have not got such a clear plan on where they are heading, taking a gap year immediately after finishing school can help gain valuable experience, clear your mind and even make you change course. As a parent I felt and still feel nervous every time I think of my little girl striding off to the UK let alone the distance to foreign lands, but I know that so many have benefitted from the experience.
Thinking about how a parent feels when their ‘little one’ decides that time spent on a gap year is for them made me reflect about a good friend of mine who took the opportunity to travel to push her boundaries a little. This particular lady was in her 30’s at the time, so not your normal student type but never the less she benefitted greatly from the whole experience. Especially when she was able to spend two months with her native family in Pakistan for the first time in her life.
So, as parents should we encourage our children to consider travelling as an option before launching into further rafts of studying?
Thousands of young people will be beginning to plan their gap year during the next few months. Will it be helping to build a school in India? Or working in an orphanage in Africa? Or maybe dispensing drinks in a bar in Thailand?
The chance to assert a little independence, escaping the parental shackles, is highly commendable. We know that universities welcome gap year applicants, believing that the experience gained makes a more rounded human being. It is important to remember that universities look for what the student can offer from a more holistic view point.
The idea of spending a year away from all that is well known and comfortable is a great way to grow as an individual mentally and emotionally.
My ex-husband encouraged his daughter when she was eighteen to take this option. It was a chance she took full advantage of visiting and working in many countries throughout the year, including Thailand, USA, Spain and South Africa. I firmly believe that this experience enhanced her as a person and developed her skills and knowledge as a teacher herself.
Gap years don’t necessarily need to be about travel. You can gain valuable experience by just staying where you are. Some young people take a year off to gain an edge through work experience. A plan to get a job that relates directly to the course or degree that you intend to take can give you a deeper understanding of your studies and future career.
For many teenagers this experience has strengthened their belief in their chosen path. For others it has helped them change or modify their studies. Choosing this option has added benefits of being able to save funds to help with accommodation and living costs when the degree course starts.
Gap years aren’t for everyone. Re-adjusting to an academic timetable after a year out can be difficult but on balance they get the thumbs up from me. So why is a gap year a good thing?
- 1. Learn about the world. First-hand experience of unfamiliar cultures offers profound lessons, especially for curious and motivated young people.
- 2. Learn about yourself. Young people are able to figure out who they are and who inspires them.
- 3. Have fun. You only live once. Have enough fun to be able to then settle down to the rigours of degree course.
- 4. Find your academic niche. Students often chose the wrong path, having time to think about the route you want to take gives you the opportunity not to make that mistake.
- 5. Learn an additional foreign language. This is such a valuable skill in todays interconnected world. Being able to communicate in another language opens up opportunities that you may have previously overlooked.
So yes to gap years, however, should gap years just be for the young?
Well after talking to my friend then definitely not, she says ‘Go for it if you can.’
One of the most uplifting and inspirational stories I read recently was that of the middle-aged Welsh couple who took early retirement, bought a small boat and sailed off to Spain for a seven-day holiday. Sixteen years later, Clive and Jane Green were home, having sailed around the world, taking in 56 different countries on an epic 58,000 mile voyage. Talking exactly like a teenager, Mrs Green, at 60, said “it’s been an amazing experience”, and the story of how their spirit of adventure and their sense of resourcefulness propelled them to the ends of the earth is an example to all of us who are the wrong side of 50.
My horizons may be somewhat narrower and as I cast envious glances at the students now organising all manner of exotic expeditions I know that all this will have to wait as I still have work to do and a bigger business to build. In the meantime I will continue to dream of a fulfilling and exciting retirement and get my enjoyment from watching my daughter spread her wings.
As I have already mentioned it might be a daunting task to see our children off but I know they will grow with the experience, which will prepare them for the adult world ahead.