The Gap Year Battle Plan
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
In the first year of JC, I looked back on my path as a student and realised that despite nearing the next milestone in my academic journey, I had no real idea of what I wanted to do after my ‘A’ Levels. Thus far, my journey had been relatively straightforward -- Study hard, and be the best student you can be.
But I knew that after my ‘A’ Levels, I would have to make decisions about my future, my life, and my career. Wanting to delay having to face the uncertainty of life after my ‘A’ Levels, I began toying with the idea of taking a gap year.
When I floated this idea to my parents, I was rejected on the spot.
“You have to be more serious about your future! You haven’t even finished your ‘A’ Levels yet, it is too soon to be thinking about this. Just go focus on your studies first.”
To an extent, they were right. There was still a year before I’d finish my ‘A’ Levels, perhaps it was too soon to be thinking about it. Besides, perhaps the path ahead would be clearer if I just forged my way through. My results might always open or close some paths for me. With that line of thinking, I put the matter of a gap year to rest, and doubled down on studying, at least for the time being.
The year went by in a flash. Having done better than I expected at the ‘A’ Levels, I realised the past year had done little to provide the clarity I had hoped for. Thinking about my future ahead made me feel like I was staring at a blank canvas – there seemed to be endless options and paths to choose from, with no possible way of choosing the best path for myself. It was overwhelming.
Yet, everyone I asked for advice seemed to have differing ideas of what I should do. “Apply for a scholarship!” “Go study Medicine! Or Law!” “Why not study abroad?” Amidst the cacophony of opinions, it became increasingly clear that this was a decision that I had to think through and make on my own. I could not keep chasing someone else’s dream for me, I had to forge my own path ahead.
In light of this realisation, I doubled down on my plan to take a gap year. But this decision brought with it another set of doubts.
On the one hand, taking a gap year would allow me time and space to explore new opportunities and interests. On the other hand, I felt an immense pressure not to let the year go to waste. What if nothing fruitful comes from taking the gap year? Will people just see this as me being lazy and flippant about my future?
I knew I needed a plan, to keep me on track and to provide a clearer picture of what to spend the time on. So I made a list of the things I hoped to gain from the gap year:
1. Learn new skills
2. Gain working experience to build my portfolio
3. Explore the world beyond Singapore
Next, I began planning a timeline to help accomplish these goals. I searched for jobs and internships I was hoping to apply for and take on to not only gain the experience and skills I was seeking, but also provide some income to fund my expenses (travel and otherwise) during my gap year. I rolled all these materials into a presentation and presented it to my parents.
Having seen that I had a well thought out plan, and that I had various tangible goals and means of achieving them, they relented and gave their approval for my taking a gap year.
I spent the first few months working part-time as a barista at a cafe, because it was an easy entry-level position to apply for and provided me with the income I needed to support myself and fund my travels. The flexible schedule also allowed me to apply for internships and plan my travels.
Although the job wasn’t as enriching as I had hoped, I appreciated the opportunity to learn how to make the different drinks, design latte art and the like, and also noticed an improvement in my confidence when interacting with others. By the end of my stint as a barista, I had earned enough to go for vacation trips with my friends to Taiwan, Korea, and Nepal.
I found that my trip to Nepal was one of the most rewarding moments of my gap year. Being close to nature while trekking in the mountains offered me a sense of serenity and a reprieve from the stresses I faced back home. Not everyone will have the privilege of travelling during their gap year, but it is still important to take a step back at times to catch your breath, and gain some perspective.
Despite all that I had gained from the gap year, there were times when I compared myself to my friends who were already studying at their respective universities. Feelings of self-doubt would often rush over me, as I wondered what my life would be like if I had just gone to university instead of taking the year off. In those moments, I relied on the friends around me who had also taken gap years for support. We became a close knit circle, keeping each other accountable along our gap year journey, and checking in on each other to support each other in achieving our goals.
Feeling revitalised after the break I took to travel, I started the first of my two internships at SRO, an organisation that oversees several quays in Singapore. Despite only being a marketing intern, I was still made to feel I was a valuable member of the team as I was expected to sit in on meetings, and assist in different projects and events. I had expected to be brushed aside due to my inexperience, and to essentially run errands for the full time staff, but my experience at ___ was really a role which defied my expectations, and taught me a lot about the industry. Though finding mentorship as an intern depends greatly on the culture of the office, I found that taking the initiative to ask how you can help with various projects was what really opened many opportunities for me as an intern.
My second internship was at Healthserve, a non-government organisation that helped migrant workers, where I handled communications related work. I got the job not long before the COVID-19 Pandemic hit Singapore, and being able to witness how the pandemic impacted the migrant worker community in Singapore was an eye-opening experience.
In contrast to the office-bound internship at SRO, my role at Healthserve gave me an opportunity to leave the office behind and interview migrant workers to document their stories. In their stories, I heard about their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and found myself in awe of their resilience in the face of such adversity. Even when the situation got increasingly dire as the pandemic progressed, hope, the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, remained alive in their hearts. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to hear and write about their stories.
Taking a gap year is not the right decision for everybody. I was fortunate to have gained so much from my gap year, but I recognise that the ability to take a gap year to broaden my perspective is a privilege which many might not have. Yet, if you do find yourself wanting and able to take a gap year, my advice would be to be realistic about what you hope to achieve from the year. Don’t expect life-changing revelations to come out of a single year’s expectations, and don’t expect every day of the year to be a meaningful and purpose-filled. You will find yourself spending pockets of time doing nothing, and might think of the time as being wasted. I urge you not to be demoralised by these thoughts. And celebrate the small things, the little milestones. Even the smallest victories can give you that high that carries you over the mountains.
A year is both longer, and shorter than you think it is. Stick to a plan, but learn to go with the flow, and sometimes you might just find what you’re looking for when you least expect it.