Students who took a gap year share their reasons for doing so and their learning experiences
According to these youths, taking a gap year may be more rewarding than you think.
Taking a gap year can be daunting.
You may feel like you are on your own and falling behind the rest of your peers. You may worry about losing momentum. You may even find it difficult to find employment without adequate qualifications.
For four youths, however, the pros outweigh the cons as they benefited greatly from taking a gap year.
Making the decision to take a gap year
As her A-Level results were less than ideal, 22-year-old Low Miao En, Bibiana Inez hesitated in choosing a degree programme. Her results did not meet the requirements for the course she was interested in and she did not want to choose just any course for the sake of attending university.
She said: “I was only interested in the communication studies degree programme offered at (Nanyang Technological University’s) Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information and when I couldn’t get in with my grades, I was quite lost.”
Like Bibiana, 21-year-old Alicia Chai was unsure of what she wanted to study after graduating from Singapore Polytechnic in 2019 with a Diploma in International Business, though for a slightly different reason.
“I wanted to take time to consider because I didn’t want to study for something and then regret it later. Additionally, I thought it was a good opportunity to gain some experience so that I will have a clearer goal when I get back to studying,” said Alicia, who interned as a human resource personnel in an e-commerce company and did admin work part-time at a hotel during her gap year.
It was the same for Nanyang Polytechnic graduate Britania Princess Buni, 20, who worked as a nurse to help out with family expenses and build up her savings.
However, 24-year-old Ian Lim Li Ern’s experience was entirely different. He was supposed to graduate from the Singapore University of Technology and Design this year, but enrolled in a gap-year programme offered by the school at the start of the year, which delayed his graduation.
The gap-year programme allows students to pursue entrepreneurship modules in two of the world’s biggest economic powers, the United States and China.
“I wished to expand my horizons in this aspect as I was very much intrigued by the global startup scene,” Ian said.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were unprecedented challenges where Singaporean students on official overseas placements were asked to return home earlier in March this year.
As a result, Ian had to balance overseas remote classes at night because of time differences while interning during the day in order to clear a work immersion module as part of the programme.
Invaluable lessons learnt during their gap year
Although Ian didn’t manage to have the gap year he signed up for, he took it in stride.
He admitted to regretting his decision at first as he didn’t manage to go overseas for the entire duration and yet had to postpone his graduation. However, he quickly realised that living in regret is not ideal.
“Rather than going through a self-incriminating process and asking why am I here, I ask myself what can I learn in this period of time?”
“Evident from the unprecedented year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I realised it’s important not to be too consumed by one’s constraints but try to shift your mentality to see the opportunities within challenges.”
For Bibiana, she learnt not to be too hard on herself. It is okay to fail as long as she owns up to her mistakes and learns from them. She had taken up internships and worked as a freelancer in the media industry during her gap year.
She got in touch with alumni from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film & Media Studies and learnt more about the school. It influenced her decision to enrol for the Diploma in Mass Communications the following academic year.
Another important thing she cultivated during her gap year was self-awareness.
Bibiana said: “Being alone out there… made me a lot more cautious and conscious about myself. I was the youngest crew member on the shoots that I had been on during my gap year so it was quite a daunting experience especially so for one who had zero experience in video production then.”
Besides achieving her initial objective of having a clear goal to work towards as well as experiencing the working life, Alicia has acquired various skills.
“In (Human Resource), you have to communicate a lot with people and it taught me to step out of my comfort zone to talk to people. Both companies also required speaking in Mandarin, so I honed my (command in Mandarin) a lot during my gap year,” Alicia said.
For Princess, she taught herself to remain humble.
“It’s important to stay humble and teachable wherever you go, especially in new places. People were more willing to help me out and I got to learn the workflow more easily, because I could accept where I went wrong and quickly correct it.”
Advice for those considering taking a gap year
In terms of her overall impression of taking a gap year, Princess believes that future students should take a gap year only if they know what they can do to purposefully and intentionally occupy their time.
The first-year student at the Singapore Institute of Technology said: “It’s good to take breaks and rest, but don’t do nothing for too long because it can get harder to get back into the motion of working or studying.”
Ian agrees that students considering a gap year must be disciplined and stick to objectives that they have laid out if they want to make the most out of the gap year experience.
He said: “If you are able to bear the opportunity costs in additional financial expenses, time and resources, I believe it is a worthwhile investment to pursue a gap year.
“Personal development becomes more relevant and valuable especially when you have no overarching pressures to conform to expectations and deliverables such as in the case of school.”
Alicia, who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at the National University of Singapore, added that whether or not to take a gap year differs for each individual.
“If you already know what you want to do, go ahead and further your studies. If you are not sure, I would recommend you to take a gap year and explore the industries that you are interested in as it might give you a clearer picture on what to do in the future… but if you decide to do so, make sure your gap year counts or you might have wasted a year, she said.
Bibiana also pointed out the importance of spending the gap year wisely.
She said: “Don’t expect to be spoon-fed and handheld like how we are in school because it requires self-discipline.”
With that being said, the current Mass Communications student attributes her motivation for doing what she does to her learning experiences during her gap year.
“I think it’s important to discover your interests and passion out of the school setting… it will also give students a better idea of what they like and dislike, manage their expectations, and plan for their future careers accordingly. I truly believe that it’d help in one’s career planning,” Bibiana said.