Filling in the Gap: Three students share about their gap year experience

Taking a gap year worked for these students, and here's why

Photo: Rebecca Svantemann
Just last week, we shared about what the experts had to say about taking a gap year. This time, students who have been there, done that will share what it's like taking a gap year, why they did it and whether it's worth it.

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Rebecca Svantemann, former Dulwich College Beijing student, now studying a BSc in International Business and Politics at Copenhagen Business School 

1. Why did you decide to do a gap year?
Taking a gap year was something I had already decided to do back in Year 10. Both of my parents took gap years, and in Denmark it is very normal to do so. I didn’t really know what I wanted to study or what profession I wanted, and I hoped that if I took a year to pursue my passions, I would be more certain in choosing a career path that was perfect for me. 

2. What did you do for the year?
I started off by travelling to Labuan Bajo, a small rural harbour town on the Island of Flores in Indonesia and the gateway to the Komodo National Park. The Komodo National Park is known for its Komodo dragons and for having some of the most pristine and rich marine life. This is where I decided to become a scuba diving instructor.

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The training took a little under three months, and after that, I stayed and worked for half a year, guiding tourists underwater, conducting diving courses and one occasion, having the opportunity to run a liveaboard in a cruise director capacity.

Following my underwater experiences, I travelled to Accra in Ghana.

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I had communicated with an NGO football academy there called the Rising Stars of Africa, a talent academy that recruited players from rural parts of Ghana and provided board, training and free education. I had asked if I could come and volunteer as an assistant coach and when I arrived, I was given the responsibility of coaching the U13 team, who was a group of extremely talented, albeit cheeky boys who I ended up building a very close connection with. As is the case with many of these smaller NGOs, funds are often an issue, so I created a video depicting their situation hoping to gather funds to buy a new pair of football boots for each of the 50 boys at the academy. This ended up being a great success despite knowing that it will only alleviate the financial strain that many of these organisations face short term.

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3. What skills did you learn or opportunities you had out of school?
I think one of the most important skills that I can take from my gap year is that of being independent. When you are in school or university for that matter, you have the option to be independent but there will always be a safety net of teachers, peers and parents that can help you along the way if you need it. This net disappears when you’re stuck on a local bus that breaks down five hours from your destination in a foreign country, with no internet connection and you don’t speak the language; or you’re suddenly hit by a surge of current 30 meters underwater with five guests looking to you for comfort. You can’t rely on anyone other than yourself, and you have to quickly learn to trust your own instincts, hoping that all of your experiences and training up until that point will allow you to make smart decisions. 

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4. Did this gap year help you in uni or in your world or generally your worldview?
I don’t think my gap year changed my worldview, but it definitely enhanced it. Everyone knows about the struggles impoverished children in Africa face, and we understand the impact that global warming has on the world’s coral reefs, but actually experiencing it and creating relationships with people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures, seeing a favourite dive site bleach over the course of half a year, is both frightening and motivating. It definitely influenced my choice in education at university, and I hope that my courses will eventually provide me with the necessary skills to come up with sustainable solutions to any of the major issues that face the global population today. 
Katie Zhang Xiao Mu, former YCIS student now at Berklee College of Music

Katie Zhang Xiao Mu, former YCIS student now at Berklee College of Music

Why did you do a gap year? 
I was pretty sure I was going straight to college after high school. But when I didn’t get my top pick, I started questioning the path I had chosen for my future career. I talked to my parents about switching majors from music to liberal arts and re-applying. But they suggested I take a year off and take this time to think about what I really wanted to do in the future. So I applied to a 10-month independent artist program in LA to learn more about music and what I can do with it. 

What was the course about? 
It’s an independent artist program in a music institute in Hollywood for musicians to focus on what they’re interested in and also get to know the music industry. I studied songwriting, music production and performance, which allowed me to further understand myself as an artist. I realised that during high school,  I was really focused on performing, but I wasn’t taking enough time writing songs, which is actually what I am better at. The program allowed me to get in touch with a lot of unique musicians, which encouraged me to become better at what I do. 

What opportunities did it give you? 
Studying IB music helped my music theory but it focuses on music history and classical pieces rather than contemporary music. During this gap year, I learnt a lot of practical skills. The music institute I studied at was full of opportunities. The teachers are actual songwriters and producers, so I had a lot of opportunities to work with them. Lessons and encouragement from professional musicians gave me a lot of confidence as well. 

How did the gap year help you? 
It led me to a lot of music knowledge, getting to know a lot of people that  I respect and like being around. And I think the most important thing is that I grew confident that this was the industry for me. I ended up getting into the top contemporary music college that I was rejected from last year, and with an annual 10,000USD scholarship too!

Theodore Cui Xin Long, former YCIS student now at Ringling School of Art & Design

Theodore Cui Xin Long, former YCIS student now at Ringling School of Art & Design

Why did you decide to do a gap year? 
I wanted to apply to a better university compared to the ones I’ve been admitted to.

What did you do for the year? 
I learnt Spanish and got my driving license during the gap year. I also had the fortune to spend more time with my family as once I enter university,  I won’t get to see them often.

How did the gap year help you? Learning Spanish creates more internship opportunities in the future. As a film major, it also helps me reach out to filmmakers in Latin America.

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By: Lauren Patrie
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