By: Zoe Melnyk
Nicola Easterby, a travel photographer and blogger, began her journey with a gap year straight out of high school and basically never stopped.
She took her gap year in Europe and fell in love with travel and photography.
Instead of going back to school, Easterby pursued travel photography and grew a successful blog called the Polkadot Passport.
In an interview with Cava for Lunch, Easterby explained that she started out on a gap year to Europe and eventually the photographs she posted on Instagram were picked up by travel companies and soon enough she was seeing her images on ads.
“Suddenly I was seeing my photos in the window of travel agencies and I started thinking that maybe I could make something out of this. The travel blog followed, and everything has just sort of snowballed from there.” She said.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma that a gap year student will actually never return to school and won’t be able to build a career. However, according to American Gap, 90 per cent of students return to school within a year of their break.
American Gap also included a study that found students that participated in a gap year, “overwhelmingly reported to be satisfied with their jobs.”
According to the study these students found it easier to work in groups and had less-selfish motivators for their work.
Benefits gap year students found going into college or university
Students across Canada and the United States are opting to travel and volunteer around the world for a gap year after high school as opposed to going straight into college to postpone steep tuition costs.
So, what is a gap year?
“A gap year is a break typically taken between high school and college that might include travel, work, study, volunteering, or research,” according to the website CIEE Gap Year Abroad.
For the most part, it gives young adults the opportunity to gain some real life experience and get a handle on what it is they actually want to study before making the typical four-year commitment.
Are the number of students choosing a gap year really increasing?
In a study done by Harvard College, there has actually been a 33 per cent increase of students choosing a gap year over the past decade.
That’s a very interesting increase considering tuition in Canada has increased 40 per cent in the past decade according to an article in Global News, and public in-state universities in the United States have almost doubled in the past decade according to and article in U.S. News.
Tuition Rises vs. Gap Year Interest Rises
Students that want to travel or volunteer for their gap year will usually go through some sort of program to find the right place to go and the right kind of work to do. An example of one of these programs is The Leap.
The Leap works with students to find a placement that matches where they are interested in going, what time of year they need to go, and what kind of work they are interested in.
“The gap year offers the chance for students to find out what they are passionate about, take a break and also build vital skills that will ensure they perform better at university, settle in easier and also in the long-run find jobs more easily,” said Jenny McWhirter, a representative from The Leap.
McWhirter also offered some information on where students generally choose to go saying that, “The most popular region we find is Asia; Cambodia in particular is a very popular destination. I think this is mainly to do with the ease of travel and the well trodden backpacker routes.”
She also noted that Africa is one of the least popular destinations as it requires the most planning.
As far as falling behind in school, McWhirter said that as long as a student has their own goals, it can actually teach them skills they could not learn in a classroom.
“A gap year teaches students to work for a goal and to see it through. It also gives them great communication skills and in many cases confidence.” she said.
While most people do come home with a positive mindset, not ever experience during a gap year is a good one.
Emily Eymundson, a student at Ryerson University, took a gap year to China before going to university in Toronto. While the overall experience was incredible and eye-opening, Eymundson had her fair share of stress.
One such experience occurred when Eymundson purchased a train ticket to go back to her temporary home after a weekend of travel. She unfortunately had purchased a ticket for the wrong train. While in North America this might not be the end of the world and there would be customer service agents to help ease the situation, that was not the case for Eymundson in China.
While in the midst of a very stressful situation, someone actually grabbed Eymundson and brought her on the train. She was shoved into a private compartment and told to remain silent.
At this point, she had figured it was the conductor that had grabbed her and thought there was a fair chance that this was the end. However, once she reached her destination, the conductor came back and rushed her off the train.
“I thought he’d kidnapped me to kill me or something, but really he’d overheard what had happened, and decided to selflessly help me.” She said.
Eymundson described this as “one of many” stressful situations, but even so, she reflects on her experience with a quote from Lemony Snicket, “Although at times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, believe me when I say, there is much more good in it than bad.”
Among all the information gathered, there was a common thread for gap year students. It is not for the faint-hearted, and it is not for someone who isn’t willing to work with others.
It may not be the decision for everyone, but for a student looking to gain some real life experience, perspective, and a possible kidnapping story, a gap year might be the right step.
One thing is for sure, it is a time that you will never forget.