Joanna travelled with Camps to Borneo and Cambodia during her gap year before starting university. She shares her story and her words of wisdom to anyone thinking about embarking on their own gap year.
(Spoiler: if you’re thinking about it, you should go for it!).
Why did you decide to take a gap year?
The actual decision to take a gap year was pretty spontaneous for me. I’d just got back from a school expedition in Peru with Camps International and jet-lagged me decided to book myself on the best value Camps Gap Year programme at that time which was three months in South East Asia. The reasoning behind this spontaneity though was a desire to get back to the person I’d been in Peru, care-free and exploring the world. Taking a year out from academia and a rather chaotic life gave me the opportunity to live as many adventures as I could fit into 12 months, big and small.
What did you get up to throughout the year?
The first 4 months I spent at home, working in a coffee shop, volunteering at my old school and just enjoying having time to do whatever I wished. In the January I flew off to Borneo to spend two months there with Camps International and another in Cambodia. With just a month back in England, I flew to the other side of the world once more to spend the summer working at a Girl Scout Camp in Arizona before travelling across the States.
How have your gap experiences helped to prepare you for uni?
As cliché as it may sound, my gap year (affectionately referred to as my ‘gap yaaaah’) really did help me to ‘find myself’. Having spent a year travelling, adventuring and experiencing new ways of life gave me a much greater self-awareness. Being stuck with just me who knew who I was as I threw myself across the globe gave me both the freedom to be entirely the version of myself I wanted to be, but also the need to figure out who that person was so I could introduce myself to new people. By the time I got to uni I was a much more resilient and tolerant person with a thirst for adventures and the confidence to go get them. And of course gap years provide wonderful photos to decorate uni rooms, not to mention all the random anecdotes you can throw in on a daily basis.
Has your gap year helped to influence your future choices?
For the near future, taking a gap year has led to many more adventures and travel plans including post-uni gap years in the pipeline. Looking into the more distant future, the influence has been less distinct however the greater confidence I have in myself has allowed me to trust that the uni course and eventual career pathway I have chosen are the right choices for me and I know have even more faith that I’ll be able to succeed with these.
How have your experiences shaped you as a person?
The amount I learnt about myself and other people from my single year of ‘gap’ is almost as great as what I had learnt in the entire 18 years leading up to it. The people I met, discussions I had and lives I was able to share has completely changed my outlook on life and given me the drive to squeeze as many experiences into the limited years we have to enjoy this world. Gap year life taught me not only who I am but how much there is to love about me and the life I live. Even though some days I ache with how much I miss the friends living across the ocean or the feeling of waking up in a new city everyday, my gap year has increased my positivity enormously, giving me the label at uni of “annoyingly happy” and “keenest bean”.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of taking a gap year?
A gap year is basically a bonus year. Most people just go through school then uni and finally a life of work. However some have discovered the secret to squeezing another chapter out of life: the gap year. But if you want the bonus year, you’ve got to have guts. It’s not a year to be spent sat in an armchair or just going about your normal life but with slightly less on; it’s an incredible opportunity to get out there. If you’re worried about money, then set aside part of the year to work and save. If you’re worried about what friends or family might think, worry more about what you think. If you’re scared, book the trip and conquer your fears as you go.
It’s never too late to get your own gap year underway, whether you’ve been thinking about it for a while or have had a sudden change of plans. If you’re hovering on the edge of taking the next steps, take Joanna’s advice and grab the opportunity with both hands – you won’t regret it.