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Articles > July, 02, 2009

Gap Years – A Track Well Beaten

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Meeting new people, or should I say, students, we know the scenario, the standard questions, where are you from, what are you studying, and oh, a gap year? Did you really? How interesting, where did you go?


YAWN. No offense meant to those of you who’ve been to Thailand on your gap years, but seriously, why? As far as I can tell, it’s slap bang in the middle of a very well beaten track, with all the pretence of being a mysterious and unexplored land. I’m serious; the place must be heaving with public school gap year students complete with Daddy’s American Express, running around trying to find street urchins to play football with. And all so they can upload their pictures to facebook so the world can see how charitable they really are. Before a five course meal and staying the night at a luxury hotel, of course (it’s so cheap, or didn’t you know?).

Same goes for Australia. A twenty one hour flight away must equal adventure! NEWSFLASH; Australia was once where the British Empire dumped all their unwanted criminals and other undesirables so they’d never be able to return. A country awash with culture? I don’t think so. Ok, so I’m being pretty negative and I apologise, I’ve no problem with gap year students wanting to have a little fun in the sun, far from it. It’s the pretence of the ‘cultural/charitable experience’ that offends me most. If you want to go off on an extended surfing holiday in Sydney, go for it, just don’t pretend you’re off to improve the lives of the aboriginal children in the outback. I’m not buying it.

I admit; I’m still yet to find someone who surprises me with their gap year location. As students, we’re supposed to be the inquisitive explorers, the planet’s youth, children of the naughties with the world at our feet. So I reckon its time to get creative, really get involved with what the earth can offer us, and of course, what we can give back. I’m no hippy tree-hugger, but I reckon we can do better than British Airways flights to Thailand and back again as our big ‘adventure’. The way I see it, the gap year is the only time in our lives when we can truly be free, when nothing else is lined up for us, academically, career-wise, whatever.

So before you purchase your mosquito net and safari hat, take the time to research your location, and decide what it is you really want from your gap year. If it’s going to be drinking with new-found friends and building up an awesome tan that’s going to last you your first year in uni, then great, but be honest about it. Please, anything to avoid those awkward first conversation pauses, when the other person is thinking, how can I get away from this gap year clone? You know it’s happened. Though I have to admit, it does amuse me to overhear, ‘you went to Thailand?! Wow! Me too! That’s sooo weird!’

Is it, is it really?

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  1. Hannah

    After reading ‘The Fatal Shore’ by Robert Hughes I’d have to disagree with your point about Australia being devoid of culture! I know exactly what you mean about the ‘gap year’ types though, but to be honest- I’d have gone to Thailand too if I could afford it!

  2. Douglas Campbell

    What do you have against Australia? Sure its probably lacking in the cultural field but that doesn’t mean its not a good place to go. Did you know there are over a hundred different venemous creatures swarming over that land? Did you know that you can get rainforest, desert, scrubland and metropolis all in one country? The wildlife alone would keep me busy for months and isn’t Australia known for the general laidback-edness of the locals?

  3. Yiasemina

    Dear Anna. I have read your article and the commnents below. My first reaction was the same as Pablo’s at first. But. I respect your viewpoint and I hope I can make you see farther. Why you react in this way? I think you should better ask your self.. “Why people pretend this and that.. and why they generally act in this way..” Taking a psychological approach, why some people need to put their pics on facebook and as I understand from your point of view “show off”? Also, why you get angry about it? I know someone (international student) who came in England to study and end up with no friends back home. All of his friends hate him because he was “showing-off” and “pretend” to be a very good student. The truth? He was showing off so to get parents and friends back home to understand that he is able to achieve the best marks and that he is not what they were keep made him feel, a “loser”. So, I would suggest.. don’t get so negative with people you barely know because maybe there is something else you don’t know.

  4. Anna

    I didn’t mean to affend anyone with the article. It’s meant to amuse and make people laugh a little because I know you’ve probably come across someone that has had this kind of experience. I didn’t intend to undervalue some of the good and charitable work that people DO take part in on some gap years. I know I am writing about a minority here and its to be taken ‘tongue in cheek’. Nor do I mean to offed those who want to see the world and have fun along the way, I’m all for that too! I’m sorry if I caused offense, it wasnt supposed to be taken so very seriously, its my opinion on a very small amount of gap year students that I’ve come across who choose these types of locations and I wanted to share it and add a little humour as well. It’s by no means my total impression of gap years, I’ve got respect for people who do good on theirs and make the most of it.

  5. Mark

    I’ve got to be honest, you have a point – look through Facebook. Most of my friends at this time in their lives (end of uni) are either settling down and getting jobs or going on the Thailand, Australia (always the same few places – Byron, Whitsundays, Magnetic island, surfer’s paradise and so on…) and New Zealand. That’s not to say they didn’t have excellent times, but they did, in fact, all go to the same places. She’s right in saying that they’re not exactly off the beaten track.

  6. Emily

    Sorry, just wondering, did you have a gap year Anna? If the answer’s yes I’d be interested to know what meaningful and worthwhile activities you took part in. But given your comment about five course meals and luxury hotels I’ll take it as a given that the answer’s no. I had a gap year post-uni (gap between uni and the ‘real world’ of work). I went to South America, not quite as well travelled by the pre-uni gap year kids, but it certainly has vast areas that are just as tourist-orientated and ‘well beaten’ as Thailand and Australia. But do you know what it generally means when an area has lots of visitors? When it’s popular? It means it’s worth going to have a look at, worth experiencing. It wouldn’t be popular otherwise. So, please, don’t judge people just because they’re not travelling in Outer Mongolia or the Inner Hebrides. I’ve never once pretended I was over there to transform the lives of the poor and indigenous but I’d hate to be lumped in with your only other category of traveller ? the sun-worshipping booze hound. I like drinking, I like partying and I like laying on the beach, yes, I’ll freely admit all of that. Call me a ‘gap year clone’ if you really like. But just because I did all of that when I was away doesn’t mean that was the sole focus of my travels. I wanted to experience different cultures too and see sights the likes of which you’re never going to see trapped in England or on your Jet2 special to Majorca. Anyway, do people going to Thailand and Australia really pretend the purpose of their trip is to save children or re-build communities? Not the ones I’ve spoken to. Plenty DO do such volunteer schemes ? and good on them too. But just because others aren’t doing such admirable things doesn’t mean you can rubbish their trip. I’ve never been but I’m pretty darn sure Thailand isn’t all about drinking buckets and getting off your face at full moon parties. I’m sure, like in South America there are plenty of amazing things to see and do. Basically I feel that what you’ve written is pretty unfair and kind of closed minded. But hey…what would I know?

  7. Danni

    hi, i thik you may have a point, i dont intend to ake a gap year, as i dont think i can with my course, being a student nurse and all, but i do think, if i did i would try to do some thing worth while. to say this however, when i am qualifyed i am going to go out into africa, and work in one of the free clinics there, but again this has self resons rather than charitable ones, asit is not only for me to help people who need it, but it is also a weth of experaice i can use to help my practice, that would not be avaliable to me otherwise, so even though i would be charitable and helping people, my resoning for going out to do are not.

  8. Pablo

    I think this is a very negative view about gap years in Thailand. . Why are you so angry for, why do you attack people in such a malicious way, they are only trying to do something good. . . im unsure how you received article of the month. ..