By Regina Hong, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio
When I first told my family and friends that I was going to take a gap year, they stared at me as if I were crazier than usual.
“What are you going to do for 1 year and 8 months?”
“Isn’t it better to graduate fast and find a job quickly?”
“Won’t you feel left out when your friends are talking about exams and studying and you are working/volunteering/job-hopping etc?” (For the record, I do feel a little strange sometimes to not be subjected to exams for a year.)
“Isn’t it going to be a complete waste of time spent on bumming around?”
The fourth question is what I suspect most people would think of when thinking of reasons to oppose a gap year. In this blog post, I will attempt to offer reasons as to why a gap year is a really good decision to make.
1. You get to study what you want, for perhaps the first time in your life.
One of the things that appealed most to me about the idea of a gap year was that it would allow me to pursue my interest in languages at my own pace without having to deal with the stress of maintaining a good CAP and juggling my modules with my language studies.
You can do the same too, by pursuing your interest in anthropology/literature/Chinese literature/Harry Potter studies etc. The list goes on. You get to design your own curriculum and decide on the media you want to use for studying such as language immersion, watching tons of films, observing how manga characters are drawn by poring through volumes of manga. Best of all, the spectre of exams won’t loom around you at every turn and corner, which , admittedly, does take the fun out of learning at times.
Personally, I spent my gap year working on my Japanese and self-studying Korean and for these two reasons alone, my gap year happens to be one of the best decisions I think I have made thus far. Self-studying has numerous merits over classroom themed studies since no one is there to dictate which level you are allowed to progress at, if that makes sense. I got to choose the books I wanted to use for my studies (no textbooks, but novels) and the media I wanted to use to hone my listening skills (dramas, anime, songs, podcasts, radio). I’m glad to say that I can now read Hachiko in Japanese!
2. Pick up a new skill
In the hectic rush of our past 18/19 years leading up to our final exams and graduation from high school/polytechnic/junior college, we may have wanted to pick up a new hobby but were deterred from doing so thanks to the pressure of deadlines and tests. With a gap year, there’s no longer any reason to put it off.
The thing about the seemingly long span of the holidays (eight months for most students under the above category) is that there is so much contending for your attention with the knowledge that this period of eight months might be the last real break you get before being swamped with exams and work. As such, all your resolutions and interests (accumulated since the first year of high school) get ranked in terms of priority. Add to that a part-time job, and you might be able to fulfill only about half of your wish list. Before you know it, the holiday has flown by and your list begins to collect dust in a neglected corner.
If you organize your time effectively during your gap year, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do most of what you want. In addition, you get to spend time on honing the level of your new skill. Be it cooking, playing a new instrument, driving etc, one’s proficiency will only rise with repetition.
So, as opposed to strumming a few chords on the guitar for about two months, putting it into cold storage for the next four months due to final exams and trying to get the ‘feel’ of it back again, consider having more time at your fingertips to work on hitting a higher level of proficiency with your new skill.
3. Eeny miney mo, which job is best for moi?
Contrary to what most think about students knowing what they want to do upon graduation, the sad truth is that most students are not lucky enough to have a firm idea about what they would like as a future career path. Most students picked science subjects for practical reasons, when they are really more inclined to arts. Most dream of being doctors/lawyers/dentists without ever seeing the nitty-gritty that goes on behind the scenes a.k.a paperwork (this is particularly so for law firms).
With only eight months of holidays, presuming that a student commits for three months per job (in my humble opinion, three months is the optimal amount of time needed to have a rough gauge of what that particular job entails), one can only try out two jobs at most. Taking advantage of a gap year would enable you to have a better understanding of which career is most apt for your interests and strengths. It would also allow you to find out which job you would most definitely not be suitable for.
It’s also practical to begin earning a salary of your own to support your personal expenses for your gap year. Your family members would also appreciate a good treat from time to time. 🙂
Instead of being driven by the need to fulfill CIP (Community Involvement Project) hours, consider volunteering on your gap year as a way of giving back to the community. Whether you prefer doing fundraising events, administrative work like newsletters, helping the elderly/special needs community or working with animals, there is a plethora of charities and organizations in Singapore for you to volunteer with.
Volunteering isn’t just about accumulating good karma points. It’s about seeing the good of humanity (and restoring your faith in humanity at times) and learning how to reach out to other people instead of being coped up within a sequestered bubble of your own making.
For me, it’s about seeing the beauty of animals gifting humans with new wings to fly, and returning lost smiles to visages that haven’t seen anything but frowns for a while.
5. Explore your hometown
I suspect quite a few pairs of eyes rolled upon seeing this. But having lived in Singapore for my whole life, this little island continues to surprise me all the time. Did you know that Yong Siak Street is home to a bookshop with prowling cats and many local titles? Or that there’s a tabletop with a sign encouraging you to pick up toys?
So, rather than feeling that the fun spots of Singapore are restricted merely to tourist hotspots such as the Singapore Mandai Zoo, Underwater World, USS etc, explore the hidden spots of our little red dot and assemble photos chronicling your gap year adventures close to home.
Or if that doesn’t appeal to you, embrace the one trait that almost everyone seems to associate with a Singaporean: our foodie trait. Take a trip around Singapore to suss out local delights at the food centres and upload all your Instagram shots. #foodporn
Launch a trip with your friends, whether it be backpacking or the more conventional tour group package. Some of us might have only travelled with our family thus far. Travelling with a friend can introduce you to new perspectives on seeing the world, along with doing activities you might otherwise be unable to do with your family. It would also break you out of your own comfort zone since you are no longer able to just depend on your parents to take care of all your needs for you. Think of it as getting a taste of college residential life.
For those who would like to take part in voluntourism, there are numerous organizations worldwide catering to your interests and intended travel country.
With all that said, there is no “best” way to spend a gap year. What is perhaps most important is that your gap year is not wasted on lazing around the house and doing nothing but eating, sleeping and watching television. Think of what you would like to do if you had spare time on your hands, discuss it carefully with your parents and then decide if it’s for you. A well-spent gap year can expose you to new experiences that would enrich your life in many ways. After all, you live life only once. Make it count!