To gap or not to gap?

Very little can compare to the excitement of seeing your positive matric results online or posted on the noticeboard at your school.

May 14, 2014

Very little can compare to the excitement of seeing your positive matric results online or posted on the noticeboard at your school. Of course, answering the question, “What’s next?” as perhaps as hard as passing those final exams. Many matrics (or even graduating university students) are eager to take a year off from studying to work locally or abroad but is this a good or a bad thing? Angelique Robbertse, Job Mail Product and Marketing manager, believes that taking a gap year can be a good thing.

“In 1990, I was one of the second group of South Africans allowed to go overseas for my gap year,” Robbertse says. “I spent 8 months in Paris as an au pair, then backpacked through Greece for 4 months doing odd jobs. I’ve never regretted it.”

Robbertse admits that she didn’t enjoy studying “at all”, and was completely unsure of which field she wanted to go into. “Very few people are able to, at the age of 18, to accurately foresee what they would like to do for the rest of their lives. Taking a gap year allows you to find yourself before making the commitment to study for the next 2 to 7 years…sometimes you change your mind and go in a totally different direction that you originally thought you would study in.”

Robbertse also believes that gap years will allow you to gain valuable skills that can be applied in the job market. “In some ways, it forces you to grow up because there is no one to run to with problems – and navigating language and cultural barriers can be tricky. It’s also a good test of your values and belief system. At the end of the day, if done with the right intention, a gap year can be a great place to get to know yourself.”

Of course, it’s not all moonshine and roses. Life can be extremely difficult during and after a gap year. “A lot of individuals find it difficult to get back into the routine and discipline of studying after they’ve taken a gap year, and use that as an excuse to give up on studying. You also need to consider the practical implications of taking a year off. Financing your gap year (and even just surviving with the comforts of home) can be challenging. Talk things through carefully with your parents’ before making a decision.”

Programmes such as au pairing, bar work and teaching English are the most popular and there are numerous companies that can assist. “I would advise school-leavers who are unsure of what to study to seriously consider these, but if travelling abroad is not within their budget, they should think about spending time interning or volunteering in a field that they are interested in as a possible career path,” Robbertse advises. “That way you not gain excellent exposure among your future peers, but it gives you a behind the scenes look at that career in practise. Being a crime scene investigator or lawyer can seem glamorous on the television, but in reality it may be mounds of paperwork and long hours.”

It’s important to note that your gap year is not about taking a “holiday”, but about learning and preparing for your future career, says Robbertse. “Relaxing should not be your main priority – learning should be. Even if you use the year to learn a little bit more about who you are, it won’t be in vain.”