Why gap years can be a complete waste of time
As a cynical final year student, I can’t be the only one sick of those unutterably dull types writing odes to ‘what my self-serving gap year taught me’. It makes me wonder: what is wrong with my generation?
Does the paralysing fear of university debt and the frenzied competition for decent places breed some specially boring type of potential student? I have a particular distaste for those pretentious people who, safely holding their place for PPE at Oxford or Durham, vomit paragraphs on how spending a year in Brussels, or in Peru helping starving children, really made them understand that they want to be a politician or work for Save the Children. This is all, of course, a complete fantasy. They knew what they were going to do beforehand, because Mummy and Daddy taught them that going into politics or the foreign office is the ‘right sort of thing’.
I spent half of my gap year in my hometown in the south of England and half in Mongolia, the first half paying for the second. I left my job in a PR firm (got through work experience, not family contacts) in April and frantically rushed around, trying to buy warm clothes, a suitcase and other necessities that had belatedly occurred to me.
About two weeks later, I pitched up on the first flight of my life and spent 22 hours travelling from Heathrow to Ulaanbataar, capital of Mongolia. I was officially working on the UB Post newspaper, but throwing them a couple of articles and a fair amount of sub-editing each week, I devoted the rest of my time to drinking, having fun and enjoying the idiosyncratic city that is Ulaanbataar.
Mongolia has really taught me more about what I don’t want to do with my life. When you’re staying in a nomadic ger in the Gobi desert and all around you is flat red earth for about 200km, you start to wonder things like: hey, where’s the toilet? It’s then that you realise your real limits.
It seems that, more and more, you have to have spent your time doing something a university admissions officer or potential employer can comfortably deem as worthwhile, rather than something fun. It is not a crime to be eighteen and sit on a beach all year. In fact, it shows you are more well balanced than Mr. I-worked-for-Deloitte-for-six-months-and-it-changed-my-life. I’ve heard that Bristol University even allots points according to how meaningful and sensible your gap year choice was. The problem is that this means nothing. Someone can stay at home for an entire year and become a changed person, or they can travel to 30 countries to help in orphanages and still remain small-minded and uninterested in the world around them. The only way you can find this out is by having a good bullshit detector.
All those mind-crushingly boring types might have spent a year doing something that will give them a big gold star on their CV, but they’re missing out on an opportunity to get out, see the world and relax, something they probably need more than those who do end up spending all their time on a beach. So please, spare us the bullshit: if you can’t have fun yourself, write about what it really meant to you, how it’s going to get you a job at Daddy’s law firm, not a bunch of spiel you borrowed out of last week’s Sunday review.