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Why you should take a gap year and go backpacking after high school

By Elise Sterk //08-12-2015

As Camille O’Reilly, research fellow at Roehampton University in London, states “backpacking was once a marginal and unusual activity undertaken by hippies and adventurous drop-outs, it has now become a widely accepted rite of passage for young people.” According to the Year Out Group, which consists out of 38 gap-year companies, each year 90000 British students take a gap year or take some time of from their study. Backpacking is especially getting more popular among high school students who want to take a gap year before starting college. Including me.

My gap year started on the 27th of December, seven months after I finished high school. I was thinking about the next step in my education and I got accepted for the study criminology. However, I decided not to start that study, and instead I took a gap year to travel through Australia with my friend Flore. I worked seven months to save money for my trip and I was in Australia for seven months, of which I worked three months. My two main reasons for this decision were that I didn’t fully support my decision to study criminology and my English was terrible back then. Therefore, I hoped that I would both improve my English language skills and discover my interests, thus the study related to these interests. Also, I wanted to explore a different country and culture. I wanted to improve my social skills, solve problems on my own and learn how to be financially independent. I can already tell you that I accomplished all these things and many more.

But let’s start from the beginning. After seven months of working and saving money for my trip, it was finally the 27th of December. I felt a bit scared and lonely when saying goodbye to my family, I even let a few tears slip down my face. However, as soon as I walked trough the gate this all passed and I got very excited for my trip. Two days later I arrived in Sydney. It was very warm and I was tired and feeling dirty, but enthusiastic to finally be in Australia. The first backpacker I met, an English guy named Nathan, was on his way home after a year backpacking and he described his experience as “truly amazing.” And with this first positive comment, I was ready to experience and learn new things. 

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since taking a gap year to travel and work abroad is often related with negative experiences. Some people believe that it is a waste of time and that students can better use that time to finish school. Roundup News columnist Victor Herrera states that “finding a career younger and sooner can get you started on a successful path to a brighter future.” Also, Herrera believes that students who take a gap year have less “motivation” and “focus” when they start school again. However, after my experience I can write that I disagree with Herrera. I experienced the loss of “motivation” and “focus” only in the first three weeks after my return, mainly because I had the strong urge to go back. However, it helped that, immediately when I got back, I justnmp continued doing everything again. The first three weeks were a bit rough, but after that everything was normal again, except that I now have an amazing experience that no one can take away anymore. And if I wouldn’t have taken a gap year I would now be studying criminology, a study that I did not fully support, instead of Communication and Media, which is a study that I really like and is perfectly in line with my interests and hobbies. This is an international study taught in English and, as mentioned earlier, my English was terrible. However, after seven months of backpacking in Australia, I was confident that my English was good enough to participate in this study. And it was. I improved a very important skill in this increasingly globalizing world. Which is in line with what backpacking student Beverly Reinemann believes, namely that “If you do it right, a gap year can give you the extra skills you need to outshine other candidates when you return home.”

Furthermore, backpacking in Australia had more advantages than just education. It had a positive influence on my social skills as well. I met new people, from different cultures, everyday. Sleeping in dorms was a great way for me to meet new people. My friend Flore once said, “sleeping with 6 other people in the same room forces you to be social and talk to them, otherwise it just gets really awkward and unpleasant.” Also, dorms are the cheapest sleeping option in Australia. Since, I was responsible for my own finances, I had to keep track of my expenses and decide how I wanted to spend my money. Going on tours is very expensive, thus I had to save money on sleeping. This taught me to be financial independent. And yes, of course I’ve had a few bad experiences when sleeping in dorms, like cockroaches in my bed… and even people having sex in the bed next to me. At that moment it is annoying, however when you wake up the next morning you can laugh about it and it is a fun story to tell to the people you meet next.

Overall, I can only say that the seven months in Australia are among the best months in my life. I learned many new things, met new people and improved many of my skills. Taking a gap year after high school to work and travel through Australia was the best decision that I could possibly make. It resulted in an amazing and enriching experience both during my gap year and after. I strongly encourage every student to take a gap year and travel or work abroad, especially if you are unsure about the next step in your education.


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