Why Gap Years Matter


by Sandra Leow, UWC Maastricht
23rd September, 2019


Just a year ago, today, I was in the process of closing a chapter in my life. I was looking forward to the endless possibilities UWC would bring. I was ready for change, and the changes that will take place as I embark on this new journey. 2 years ago, today, I was in a state of contemplation as to whether or not to embark on a gap year. Ultimately, the sole reason why I decided to take a gap year was solely due to the advice given by my sister. Little did I know, the decision that I’ve made prior to graduation was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
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Gap years are generally quite tricky. It is typically stapled with negative connotations: failed the IB? Didn’t get into the university of your choice? Don’t know where you want to go after high-school? Gap years are often seen as unrewarding, a waste of time, and ultimately, invaluable. It is seen as an entrance to the world of a year-long-procrastination, which may turn into a lifetime of gap years.
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While these connotations may be highly applicable to some individuals – as gap years are definitely not made for everyone and anyone – gap years can be highly valuable. Whether it is living in a foreign country for a year, volunteering at a local charity organisation, embarking on a Semester at Sea program, or simply spending more time with your family back home, one is not necessarily more superior than the other. As long as one values the art of self-responsibility and time management, one can certainly walk the talk.
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My gap year started on a rocky basis. My initial purpose for undertaking the gap year was based on the premises that I needed an escape from academia. Although I was uncertain of the challenge ahead of me, I was certain that I needed change. During my gap year, I worked for a few different companies, founded an NGO, undertaken a position as the Secretary-General of Malaysian National MUN, and worked on several other local initiatives in Malaysia. While these initiatives did not necessarily surface during the beginning of my gap year, the opportunities that bloomed during the period of uncertainty is beautiful. Gap years provide the ideal space for experimentation. It allows YOU to shape your own desired outcome.
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During my gap year, I had the opportunity to start my own non-governmental organisation called Project 1611. We partnered with another organisation in Nepal which focused their mission on empowering women through the means of funding their businesses, providing strategies and workshops, and other relevant measures to break the patriarchal make-up of society in Nepal. Working with 16 other driven, inspiring young individuals opened up my perspectives of Youths and the concept of resilience.
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My gap year left me with a sense of hope. Being able to be driven solely by my own self will and passions allowed me to reevaluate what I value in life: family, friends, alone time, school, career. I believe that although having a sense of security is certainly important, gap years could be highly uncertain. But this sense of uncertainty shouldn’t be viewed in a bad light. This feeling of uncertainty gifted me with a platform to experiment. The opportunities that opened its doors, friendships that bloomed, and most importantly, the stories that I’ve shared and heard.
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Essentially, I believe that my gap year allowed me to constantly reflect. After living and breeding in the world of academics for the past 14 years, this experience gave me a space to breathe and navigate. All in all, the constant state of reflection constituted the core of my gap year. Indeed, gap years are tricky, but it is up to you to create your own experience. 

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