Sunday March 3, 2013
I donít mind the gap
By CELINE WAN
A gap year can be a positive growth experience as this teen finds out.
A GAP year is when a student takes a year off in between college and university years. Some Malaysians students do take gap years.
As for me, I didnít just take one year, I am taking two years. I wrote this account to dispel the Malaysian misconception that gap years should be dismissed.
As 2012 has come to an end, I have started to reflect on my first gap year. After one-and-a-half years, I feel more enlightened, mature and grateful, emerging from a bittersweet 2012. In retrospect, I wouldnít be the person I am today if I had settled for the easiest option.
Just like any other student, a gap year was my last resort, but I was forced to take one due to my complete ineptness in planning for my future. In short, I was lost. I didnít know what I wanted to do. I considered medicine at one point but it wasnít feasible as my family wasnít supportive of my decision and I had no way to finance it (not even at local universities). I didnít know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do.
The situation was exacerbated when my school counsellors werenít very helpful and I had no proper guidance regarding my future. I kept dragging my feet and before I knew it, I had completed my A-Levels and my peers were off to university (mostly overseas).
Initially, I thought I would take up chemical engineering, but by the time I got around to it, most of the university applications were already closed. I was left with very few options.
The timeline didnít seem so clear to me and when it came to university placements, everything was one big ďblurĒ. I felt a growing sense of dissatisfaction because I felt kind of trapped by my options, especially if I were to depend on my familyís income to support my tertiary studies.
I come from a rather large family and would be the first child to pursue a degree. In retrospect, I was the first science student too. Then, I realised I was also severely limited when it came to dates as the new term was about to begin and I hadnít even prepared anything! I donít blame myself, because everyone matures and settles on a specific path at different times.
Letís just say I had a clear vision Ė for a short while Ė that I wanted to do a double degree in chemical engineering and economics. I quickly resorted to the first choice of university offered to me as I just wanted the issue of my tertiary education out of the way.
But by September, I was miserable as I felt so alone in my sticky situation. Everyone was bidding farewell and I began to miss all my friends. At this point, I decided to take a leap of faith and apply for a place in a British university. If I could obtain an offer with external funding, that would be good, I thought. But otherwise, at least I could console myself that I gave it a try and, in the meantime, perhaps I could do other things before starting university. Whatever the case, I felt it wouldnít be a waste of time, although I did occasionally feel terribly lost.
I talked about my problem with some friends who encouraged me to apply to Britain and the United States. I would have nothing to lose.
So, less than a week before the Cambridge University deadline, I sent in my application. Never have I imagined myself to be able to apply to places like that. Perhaps I have underestimated myself and lacked inspiration back in school.
Despite the late decision, I was very determined. I started on my UCAS (required British entry qualification) and at the same time, took my SAT (American requirement).
A few months later, came the pleasant surprise Ė I received an unconditional offer from Cambridge! However, it was a deferred offer, meaning I had to take another gap year while waiting.
There was nothing much I could do and the sense of elation overwhelmed the dismal thought of having to wait so long.
Despite the shocking euphoria that caused my insomnia and temporary numbness in my fingers and head, it became clear that my journey to Cambridge wasnít guaranteed as I needed funding. Although I was more confident in myself, the possibility that I had to turn down my dream offer felt daunting.
It still feels like a dream sometimes, and I feel grateful every day. In fact, it was online forums that helped me immensely.
During my gap year, I took the opportunity to travel, be active in community work, learn new things, socialise, take up an internship ... the list goes on.
People often think the interim period would be spent doing absolutely nothing, but Iíve never been busier in my life. I still have another nine months to go before I head off to university. I hope that Iíve inspired young Malaysians, especially those currently on a gap year, to dare to dream. Venturing into the unknown makes you stronger, and you make self-discoveries along the way.
Iíd like to think Iíve come a long way in terms of maturity, courage, patience and humility. I have to concede that taking a gap year was not entirely a comfortable episode and there were many times when I felt melancholic, especially when I saw my peers and even my juniors, becoming my seniors.
It kind of sucks to know all your friends have left for their second year and you are left behind.
But think about it: does it really matter if you graduate two years later than your peers when you look back in 10 yearsí time? I bet people wouldnít even notice. More importantly, the time spent in university would eventually be the same once you graduate. And, you would be better prepared mentally when you start university.
I have no regrets and people are often surprised by my knowledge on various topics. Itís simply because Iíve had this time to learn.
It also means you have full control over your time. And there will be no other period in your life when you have the luxury to do what you want, save during your retirement days. This is definitely the time to embrace youth.
My first gap year was mostly spent on university and scholarship applications so this second one will essentially be my ďlive life to the fullestĒ year.
While I do study, work, muse, write and read up a lot to improve myself, Iíve also done way-out things like hiking, which is shocking since Iím the stay-at-home, knitting and cat-loving sort.
In conclusion, I hope readers will change their mindset and look at the gap year differently. And for those who have never heard of a gap year before, know this: there are many alternatives in life, and whatís conventional may not necessarily be the best for you as an individual.
Do you have any real-life, heart-warming stories to share with readers? E-mail them to email@example.com. Weíd love to hear from you.