Dear Canadians, Take a Gap Year!

A copy of Teen Vogue changed my life–seriously! I was 16 and reading their September issue which featured an article about various options one has at the start of a new scholastic calendar.  All your usual school options where present (ie. more school!), but there was one option that caught my attention, the gap year. That barely one inch of text instantly resonated with me and I knew this was what I was going to do.

gap year group

Some of the other people from the same gap year company that I used to travel and teach in China (Beijing, 2007)

For those of you (I’m looking at you Canada and America) who don’t know what a gap year is, the short explanation is that it is time off between finishing high school and starting university or college. How you choose to spend that year is an individual choice. Many people travel, or volunteer, or work, or all of the above! It is your chance to be independent, self sufficient, and to just live outside the routine that is being a student.

Though a very common idea in a lot of the western world, in Canada it was a virtually unheard of concept. I’d go to someone for advice only to spend the time teaching them about what a gap year was. I can’t even begin to express how frustrating it was to have people I barely know respond to the fact I was taking a year off school with the phrase, “if you leave you’ll never go back to school.” Taking time off schooling is not seen as an acceptable life choice in North America, and neither is taking time between completing post secondary education and beginning a career. Both are approached with the same (irrational) fear that you will fall behind your peer group, miss important opportunities, and your life will some how be forever stunted.

Note: I not only went back to school after my gap year, I did 5 years and earned two degrees. Take that haters!

I ended up structuring my gap year with five months abroad teaching English in China (I was considering a career in teaching), one month backpacking a full circuit of the country, and six months doing full time factory work in Canada to save money for University.

Best. Decision. Ever!

nanjing lou

Exploring Shanghai during National Week with my new friends

A gap year did not hold me back from anything I wanted to do. With many of my peers taking an extra year in high school for the same reason I was abroad (they didn’t know what they wanted to do after high school), I ended up starting university with most many of them anyway. More importantly it gave me some skills that the rest of my peers didn’t have: Independence, self reliance, budgeting, planing & organization, confidence, and a far clearer idea of what I wanted to do with both university and a future career.

Oh, and I had a kick ass time traveling, met amazing people from all over the world, and had some ridiculously awesome adventures!

gap year collage

Summer palace, Nanjing, the Orient Pearl Tower Shanghai, Sichuan opera performers putting on their make up, Forbidden City Beijing, rickshaw rides, shenanigans, Xi’an city walls, Christmas time!

A gap year may not be for everyone, and that’s okay. I’m not saying that all Canadians should take a gap year. What I am say is that it should be treated as an option for Canadian students. Let’s talk about it more, provide information to those considering it, and not throw up social or academic road blocks to prevent people from getting out there! One inch of text in a teen magazine started me off on a path that has changed my life fundamentally for the better. Just think about what we could do if we as a culture actually promoted and saw the value in education beyond the walls of institutions. Imagine how richer and more vibrant our society would be for it.

If you’re thinking about it, go do it. It may just change your life.