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Why a Gap Year is a Waste of Time (but why you Need to Have One)

Posted: 23/09/11 01:00

Oh lordy. From next year the price of a yearly university tuition fee rises to a humble £374,000, so every post A-Level student is starting uni this year, therefore abandoning their original plan of working in a dodgy supermarket near their parents' house for six months before travelling to some far off land. Sad isn't it?

I mean, don't get me wrong. Gap years are more or less pointless. Your parents don't think much of them, your employers may not think that much of them, relationships fail over them and you forget 87.7% of them. For me though, I found gap years a bit of an essential stepping stone from childhood and adulthood- a dodgy, optional, expensive, drunken and slightly sexually confusing stepping stone.

I wouldn't have been the person I am today without my gap year. And this isn't because of a belief developed from thoughts such as "well it was only after I connected with this rural African tribe that I felt at peace with myself and their culture" bollocks. No. Without the experience of being at the other side of the world for months at a time I'm not sure that I would have developed some of the essential life skills and resilience to survive in today's society... skills and life lessons that even the University experience can't possibly recreate.

Here's why every teenager needs to go on one:

It provides a bridge between being the mad person you were at school and the person you are today.

I was completely batsh*t crazy when I was a teenager. I mean don't get me wrong, I am pretty batsh*t crazy now, but back then I was best friends with all of my school teachers and once I accidentally shat my pants on geography school trip when I ate too much grass.

When I went away to the other side of the world it was an instant reality-check and I learnt two powerful lessons. Firstly, if you act like a goody two-shoes to an individual or a whole set of people the whole time you're not going to get anywhere (sex or friends). Secondly, if you want to have fun on a bus for 600 miles in one day with no stops you have to seem normal enough so that people would be willing to speak to you (otherwise you will spend the time staring out of the window, listening to Seal on your iPod, silently weeping).

This is one of the only opportunities in life, apart from the "Let's be friends during freshers at university until we've found better friends and then we won't be friends" experience, where you can try to adapt to another personality and try something out vaguely new. There's no "I remember when you cried in the library because you fell over in Year 8 and hurt your knee" or "I remembered when you peed your pants during your Year 3 Christmas play". There's no preceding judgement. It's wonderful.

You learn how to budget before you hear the words 'student loan'

By being on a gap-year you learn how to budget, by blowing your budget completely within eight days. You then spend the next three days silently twisting your parents' arms for a little bit more money on the phone (but not telling them the full amountof money that you actually need because you don't want to make it seem that you are in as much debt as you currently are) before blowing that as well, before spending the next three weeks eating pot noodle from a vending machine and packets of abandoned Ryvita. This experience is a financial dry run before the rest of your life.

You end up taking extremes as well. For example, one night I realised that I had enough money for that day, probably the next day, and nothing more. My friends were concerned at this situation, particularly the fact that I was counting coppers carefully from my hand when purchasing cheap things like a pint of milk at the local newsagents, so were willing to help me out so I could 'raise' some cash. Unfortunately I didn't have a working visa, I had dignity so was not willing to be a male escort and my only distinctive personality trait was jumping on to the side of the lamppost recreating the scene from 'Singing in the Rain' after a little bit of wine and no dinner.

So with this in mind and with a friend's guitar, some margarine and a lamppost situated near some of the local nightclubs, two friends proceeded to sing 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' badly whilst plucking some strings whilst I took the opportunity to twist my legs around the lamppost to do some amateur pole-dancing (with the margarine as a lubricant to make it easier on my hands). 'Donations' after half an hour and a confused audience? $13.20.

Two dollars profit as we had shared a bottle of gin beforehand but look out Alan Sugar.

You build some confidence

My self-confidence was pretty low before I went on my gap year. I never had the confidence to stand up to my parents in regards to which time they picked me up at a friend's houseparty for example, so the big night out always ended with me going home at around 9.45pm before any one else actually turned up.

This lack of confidence was a big issue when I was first travelling throughout the United States. As the legal drinking age was 21, and I was 19, it was very difficult to get drunk. And as party tours from my hostel went through a lot of the bars and clubs in town were heavily ID'd, I couldn't go. The main problem was that as I didn't have any confidence to at least try not getting caught, I ended up moping round the hostel every single evening doing the ironing, as well as waiting to see when the kitchen was empty after dinner so I could have unlimited free use of the hostel cutlery.

That all changed one night when I heard a desperate voice coming from the games room. You know the games room in hostels, a room that comprises solely of a pool table half-the-time comprised of large groups of adolescent boys and the feeling that you can never go there alone. "PLEASE COME TO THE GAMES ROOM" shrieked some desperate hostel rep.

"WE'VE GOT A BRILLIANT GAME OF KARAOKE COMING UP... WE KNOW YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE IT."

*silence*

"Have I told you that for every single song you sing you get a free bottle of beer?"

I bolted for the room. They weren't going to check for ID in the hostel.

For the next hour and a half I sang seven songs, in a row. I started with some a monotone version of Abba's 'Dancing Queen' to get my first drink and ended with the full concert rendition of Beyonce's 'All the Single Ladies' to get my seventh (including all of the appropriate hand movements in time to the beat of the music, leg thrusting and the sounds of the robotic noises in the backing track). When three people clapped in the audience I demanded three encores.

I don't think I would have gained confidence in life any other way.

 

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