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?