My Gap Year Journey
After university, I still wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my life, and I think that’s a pretty relatable feeling for a lot of young people. For many of us, school is all we have known.
Sure you’ve worked during summers or maybe even after school and on weekends, throughout high school and university, but for the most part, the school has been the dominating part of life since age five.
Some people choose to take a gap year right out of high school, and others go for it after university. For myself, I chose to do it after university, and it was by far the best year of my life so far. I found a job after only a few weeks of searching and landed in Shenzhen, China, directly next to Hong Kong.
The benefits of doing a gap year
First, let’s look at the benefits of doing a gap year away from home.
Like I mentioned earlier, for many people at this stage of life, all you’ve really done is school, so it’s a great way to get out of that institution, and, as cheesy as it sounds, really find yourself. If you’re more introverted like I am, it can be a great way to really force yourself to open up and meet new people.
Because I taught English for the year, this also helped me with my public speaking skills, as class sizes could be up to 24 people. This was pretty daunting at first, but by the end, I was having quite a bit of fun with my students and even teaching an extra class called bar chat.
Basically, I got to take a group of students to a bar or pub and play bar games and chat in English, and got paid for it! No guarantees you’ll be able to do this during your year away but you never know!
Because I was living in a country where I didn’t speak the language and wasn’t very familiar with the culture, I ended up not knowing what was going on a lot of the time, but that meant I got much better at just going with the flow and letting life happen.
I was quite a nervous person before living abroad but small things like getting lost around the city, ordering the wrong meals by accident, and funny miscommunications helped change that for the better.
I promise you’ll learn lots of skills that can be helpful throughout your life, whether that’s picking up a new language, working in a new industry for you, cooking new foods, or having to change the way you live.
This year away is going to be work, don’t get me wrong, but it should also be about having fun. You deserve it after finishing whatever level of schooling you had as your goal. So choose a country or city that you’re really interested in.
The journey of finding a job during my gap year
My degree isn’t something that’s easy to find work abroad, so I knew I would need other skills if I wanted to work abroad during my gap year.
To many people, the idea of finding a job abroad seems much more daunting than finding one at home, but it can actually be pretty straightforward. And if you’re like me, just out of school and not a lot of money saved up, you’re going to have to work during your gap year. But the good news is, there are tons of options.
I decided to take a quick six-week course and got certified to teach ESL (English as a second language). This really opens up job opportunities if you want to live and work in a non-English speaking country as I did.
During my year away I met lots of other teachers, for both kids and adults, people who had teaching degrees, and others like myself who just did a quick course.
I also met people who worked in the tourism industry in various capacities. From tour guides to hostel workers, to travel agents. Almost any place you’d like to spend your year abroad will have these kinds of jobs available to you, especially if you happen to speak the native language and English.
If you choose to live and work in Asia, especially Southeast Asia, you’ll make enough money that you can live comfortably, travel on your time off, and still go back home with some money in your pocket. I had a nice apartment on the 43rd floor of a building, giving me an amazing view of the city, went out for dinner with friends at least once a week, travelled to around 10 different places within China, and 3 other countries, and still managed to save money.
Your gap year is going to challenge you, but it could also very well be the year of your life.
Moving to China was my first time living on my own, so I was pretty nervous, to say the least, and it’s ok if you are too. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown, which is exciting, but also scary.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone considering doing a gap year abroad is to be friendly and open to new people. If I didn’t make the friends early on that I did, I’m sure I would have been miserable. But I stamped down my shyness and put myself out there, and it paid off with friends for life.
If you take a job similar to mine, you’ll probably be arriving in your new home away from home with other nervous people, so you’ll have that bond immediately, which really helps when you’re initially trying to meet new people.
Many jobs that are advertised specifically as gap years will also have activities for their employees to meet each other and hang out outside of work. My job had monthly events around the city, and each teaching centre did their own monthly team building as well. This included things like coffee or cocktail events, laser tag, dinners, hiking, art shows, and more.
My second piece of advice is to really be open to whatever culture you’re moving into.
Remember that wherever you’re going may have a very different way of doing things. You don’t have to love, or even like everything that you encounter, but keeping an open mind will keep you from going crazy.
While I loved China and made amazing friends and saw gorgeous places, living there definitely gave me more of an appreciation for Canada.
I knew a couple of people in China who were negative from the minute they landed, complaining about the heat, food, crowds, language, and standard of living. One of them I know had a pretty miserable time for the year I knew him, and the other went back to the US after just a few months, leaving on the sly without any warning to their company or roommates.
Take the leap
If you need a sign telling you to bite the bullet and do it, this is it.
If you travel with an open mind and a willingness to learn and meet new people, you’ll have the time of your life.
There are lots of companies that work specifically at helping people work abroad for a gap year away. Because I knew I wanted to try teaching I did my course through Oxford Seminars. When you finish the course they have a placement program to help you find work in whatever country you’re interested in.
Some of the most popular countries they have placements with are China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, Italy, and France, though there are many more.
Another company I have looked at personally is Go Abroad. They have lots of different programs helping people travel, but I looked at their gap year program which allows you to either volunteer or work for 9-12 months. They also have many countries to choose from, including all over the UK, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The last company I’ll show you is called the SWAP Working Holidays. This one is specifically for my fellow Canadians looking for their gap year. This company helps get your working VISA and job in your desired country and industry and also helps you find accommodations when you arrive.
For those worried about money during their gap year, I didn’t go to China with much, and I spent most of my money just on the flights getting there. But after working for only a couple of months I was able to start saving and took my first week-long trip in China after just 4 months being there. That was followed quickly by a trip to Cambodia, more travel around China, then Taiwan, more China, Thailand, and more China at the end of my year. I also had many weekend trips to nearby places, even flying to some of them and making it back in time for work.
Want to learn more? Check this out: Top 5 Working Away Programs
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