The gap year

Image: Alice Orszulok

The ‘gap year’ isn’t only for 18 year olds – baby boomers are also giving it a go. Alice Orzsulok asks, could a year abroad be your next big adventure?

Youth is wasted on the young, said George Bernard Shaw. The same applies for gap years. Every summer, hordes of middle-class teenagers head to India or Thailand – or anywhere else exotic and cheap – where fun, cultural exploration, alcohol and Oktoberfest are chased with single minded pursuit.

As William Sutcliffe says in Are You Experienced?,” his novel about teen backpackers: “Going to India … it’s a form of conformity for ambitious middle-class kids who want to be able to put something on their CV that shows a bit of initiative.” What if the trend changed, so professionals with fully formed CVs took time out? Something of the sort is happening today.

Baby boomers have begun to pull up stakes and proceed to spend their children’s inheritance. According to insurer Hiscox, more than a third of 45 to 54-year-olds are considering a so-called “grown-up gap year.” The website ‘Gap year for grown ups’ says many older people see time off as a chance to reclaim their life—whether to get out of the rat race, take a break before a change of career, experience the gap year their children had or kickstart their retirement.

So, with two generations fighting it out for the perfect aged gapper title, when is the best time to take a break from the working world? And how am I supposed to have any valid opinion on a subject that concerns people the same age as my parents, you might be wondering? Well, that’s just it. After reaching the age of 18, I’ve had to suffer as my parents have begun to take more and more time off work (and taking care of me) to embark on their own adventures.  Not satisfied with only exploring Australia over numerous weekends away, they’ve also left on their second adventure to Europe in the last two years.

After being forced to accept my parents friend requests on Facebook, I’ve had to endure their constant and sickly happy photos from exotic locations, with status updates including: “Just spent the day in the Vatican City, something everyone should do once!” In my case, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do it twice, since my first experience involved myself being dragged around the grand halls with a shocking hangover in 30 degree heat that made me curse the long sleeve policy. There is obviously a noticeable contrast on how our generations like to holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denouncing the whole concept. My best friend took the year off only last year to enjoy an escapade around Europe while ‘working’ as an assistant physical education teacher. During her time off, she learnt a lot of valuable life skills, such as patience, cooperation and communication, as well as how to convince the lady at the check-in desk that her bag was ten kilos lighter than it actually was, and how to keep down the vast amount of alcohol she consumed the night before while taking the students to sport on a Saturday morning (which I might add, wasn’t always successful.)

In short, I think getting the most out of a prolonged time abroad requires a sense of maturity and responsibility.  Rather than squandering money on short, unnecessary holidays, potential gappers should consider saving their cash to offset their student debt.  Save your gap year for when you’ll have the time, money and maturity to encounter the wide range of experiences the world has to offer.

Alice Orszulok

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