Remember the “Grand Tour”? A coming of age trip that young nobles and rich Englishmen took in the XVII and XVIII century in continental Europe. It’s been coming back into fashion, astaking some time for oneself, making a trip, improving a language skill or simply developing an idea or a project, such as volunteering, is a formative time that can be important for personal and professional growth.
The Gap Year, even with the wider interpretation of “sabbatical” is a year earned. Time to get to know yourself, to fosterindependence and self-esteem, explore the world, acquiring the tools and confidence to face it. We don’t grow up all in one go. A gap year is the ideal experience for those who want to get out of their comfort zone and also for those who don’t really know what to do next.
Andrea Portante D’Alessandro, in charge of marketing and programming for Raigulp, a consultant who is always paying attention to training and the introduction of youth into the job market, has written a guidebook, published by the Italian Touring Club, “Gap Year - Un anno per crescere (a year to grow up)”. A tool that explains in detail the benefits of taking a year off for oneself.
What is a Gap Year?
Gap means “hole”. It’s a length of time, usually from nine to twelve months long, in which someone interrupts their studies or work activities to follow an alternative path of personal and professional development. It’s one way to take some time and get some experience and to learn to know yourself better. It can have various different types of goals both for people who have a clear idea of what they want their life to be and for those who don’t. A year when you can go on long and adventurous journeys, learn a language, volunteer or work. The main characteristic is therefore flexibility. As we know it today, the Gap Year, also known by its more generalized term, “sabbatical year”, was born in Great Britain between the Sixties and Seventies, and it then spread elsewhere. It doesn’t have a specific cost, that depends largely on the initial disposable income and if you’re willing to work (to make the experience really formative it would be better to do so) to offsets costs throughout the year. But overall a Gap Year is much less expensive than you’d imagine. You can travel by train, by plane, on foot, by motorbike or by car, any means is ok. The important things is to be organized.
When, why and how should you organize a Gap Year?
After high school, before starting university and entering the world of employment. This gap year carries a great deal of positive effects: it helps to mature, to know oneself better, to recognize our objectives and to prepare us to achieve them. And, at the same time, it offers a unique opportunity for adventure and fun. The Gap Year fosters growth both from a personal and professional point of view. In the eyes of the people who will one day choose us for a job, a formative experience abroad before or during college has a higher value than just a high final score. When creating the program of your Gap Year, first and foremost it’s important to define the area or areas of interest. Environment, business, fashion, animals, children, languages and so on, and then after that, you can choose the countries to consider. Kids need to ask themselves: what makes me happy? What are my favourite activities? In an ideal world, what would I be doing? And what is my ideal day? You should start from a list of dreams and then, with a realistic outlook, but a healthy dose of recklessness, try and bring dreams into realities. You need to follow your dreams, and the next time you’ll have this type of freedom, the kind you have during the years between high school and university, you’re going to have to be retired. Because work, family and other responsibilities for yourself and others will get in the way.
Who and how many people choose it?
There are no official figures on the number of young adults who take a Gap Year every year, but the phenomenon has been growing the last few years. Estimates show 50-60 thousand students in Great Britain. The number is more or less the same in the United States. In Italy this is still not very popular but in our country the number of students who are choosing a temporary foreign study period has tripled. During the 2018-2019 academic year, for example, 10,200 fourth-year students chose to go abroad.
Where to spend it? Does a Gap Year only count if it’s spent in a country that is not your own?
You can take a Gap Year in your own town. Of course it doesn’t count if you stay home in your pyjamas. But if you want to develop an idea or delve into a passion and you make this happen, in that organization alone there is a strong educational quality. If you want to go abroad you can choose to stay in one country or travel to many. There are no destinations that are more popular. It all depends on the interests of the travellers. From the Trans-Siberian rail way to the Middle East. If you’re going to be travelling for a year, it’s a good idea to have a plan and specific goals. You need to gain something from the trip: it should not be an endless holiday. You can travel to far-away places that are still accessible, explore lesser known places or even the “great adventure” like driving the whole Carretera Panamericana, reach the Himalayas, discover the savannahs of southern Africa. You can also decide to work: internships in a specific sector, or simple jobs that can help offset the costs of the journey.
How much does having taken a Gap Year help when looking for a job?
Done the right way, a Gap Year integrates training and makes resumes more interesting for academic and corporate recruiters. Having an experience like a Gap Year really helps when entering the job market. It places you, right from the start, on another level compared to other candidates. By talking about your experience you are sending a different message to the person in front of you: you can study, you can organize things, you are autonomous, you can plan, and most importantly, you are a curious person. Curiosity is always an added value that companies seek out.