The Gap Year Conundrum | The Daily Star
12:24 AM, July 09, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:36 AM, July 09, 2020

DREAMS ON HOLD

The Gap Year Conundrum

If future me were to invent time travel, I would certainly come back to redo a lot of things. Maybe not glue myself to the floor, for starters, and definitely do the whole gap year gig differently. Life works in strange ways, and while I could blame my 12-year-old self for setting off the series of events that led to this predicament, there's little a 12-year-old isn't impressed by, and a passage in a certain book seemed to do the trick.

Gap years, contrary to what it is portrayed like in the media, is a consommé of two teaspoons of feeling lost, a pinch of a limbo, and a whole cup of learning how to be an adult, simmered till nice and clear. Real easy on paper, real easy for everything to go wrong.

Why you want to take a gap year is entirely up to you—maybe you need to stop yourself from the inevitable burnout, maybe it's financial, familial, or even wanting to repeat exams. While gap years, as a whole, are looked down upon in our country, they are in no way indicative of ineptness in any field. You aren't falling behind on any race, if there's even a race to begin with. If it's any consolation, tell yourself a productive gap year not only consolidates your university application, but also allows room for personal growth (the keyword here is productive).

Unlike other years, the uncertainty posed by the pandemic in current times has certainly got a lot of people rethinking their college plans, with many deferring their admission in fear of leaving the safety of sanitised, hand-washed homes. Even though gap years are rarely recommended, this year, there might be a lot more people on the same boat as you.

While you might have had this in mind for quite a while, nothing can prepare your parents for what seems like a summer vacation stretched beyond limit, that is, if you forget to tell them like I did. And there are valid reasons for them to be worried. Anywhere you look up, gap years will include one of three things: travel, working, or volunteering. Unlike our international peers, for us, gap years aren't itineraries detailing trips to Nepal, or volunteering to save Peruvian rainforests. While the very definition details working, few institutions in Bangladesh offer jobs to people straight out of high school. As for travelling, you're lucky if "Ammu, travel korbo" earns you anything other than a trip to the kitchen for fresh, locally sourced thanda pani.

No matter what you've planned, your parents may not take this lightly. Try to catch them in a good mood. Tell them something good first, even though good news is scarce at times like this. Childhood memories always work. Maybe make them some tea (my fallback plan included a small bag packed with clothes and necessities, and a good pair of running shoes).

Given the current run of events, your chances of getting them to agree are either astronomical, or on the other side of zero. Chances are, they're facing the classic Bengali dilemma: what will people say? Lay out your reasons on the table; be transparent. Tone down the drama and speak your mind. They will come round.

It is very easy for your mental health to deteriorate in the span of this year. The switch from the sheer chaos of HSC or A Levels to a stasis can give quite the whiplash, and falling into the pit of procrastination is easier than finding someone you know at Crimson Cup. Days spent doing nothing aren't exactly brain food, after all. Your friends may be moving abroad, making new friends in their new places, and there is an overwhelming sense of being left behind.

Coming back to books and studying after these 12 months with the same enthusiasm as before might be hard enough even without the stress of levelling up into college.

Even above all that, the excruciating wait for the admissions decisions is not really something to look forward to. Especially not when you're locked inside your own home, alternating between worrying and Netflix. Definitely not worth the stress.

Let's say you're taking a gap year, or have slipped unknowingly into one. Walking out of your exams, you will definitely want a break, but treating your gap year as a yearlong break could prove to be problematic in the long run.

If you're someone with many faceted interests, a gap year is the perfect time to try your hand at everything. Depending on the availability, while a job may be on or off the table, internships may be an option. Check if your school hires fresh graduates as intern teachers, or if possible, ask your teachers to help in your hunt. Non-profit organisations, volunteering, or getting involved in environmental, social campaigns all look good on an application, and you'll be getting the benefit of the whole experience.

Take the time to rack up skills that will prove to be assets to you. If research is more your thing, online research programmes are best bet you got; some even offer college credit. A friend of mine took Intro to Psychology and Python on Coursera, another learned Python on MIT-OCW. As for volunteering, virtual volunteering—tutoring, writing letters, petitions, social campaigns—can safely and effectively allow you to do good. You could even become an entrepreneur. You could become a fictioneer on the platforms galore, maybe even start a blog. Direct a short film. Build a rocket. Fight a mummy.

All you have to do is make sure you are using the time you have constructively.

While the main stigma surrounding gap years is that it is a whole year wasted on things that aren't "valuable", you will benefit from seeing it as a time to work on yourself, taking a step back and considering what you want. Weigh the academic, social and mental health benefits as well as the invisible backpack of little lessons to learn, or in this case, teach yourself. Even if you don't want to take a gap year, at the very least, consider the value it might add to you. At the end of the day, it's a choice you're making for you. It is really easy for you to get the idea that this year is going to be hard and that it would seem like forever, but honestly, time flies. It is, in the end, just one year. When you're ready to write the next chapter of your life, you'll be ready. Fingers crossed.

Maybe I should have listened to myself and made them tea.

Sarah Wasifa sees life as a math equation: problematic, perhaps with a solution, and maybe sometimes with a sign to tear off a page and start over again. Help her find 'y' at sarahwf77@gmail.com

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