Reading that Malia Obama is taking a year off before going to university, had me thinking about gap years. I graduated from high school a long, long time ago. In the last century. When I graduated back in the late 90s, the internet was young (we had dial-up), people still watched movies on VHS and cell phones not only just belonged to business people and drug dealers, but were actually used for calls. No one took gap years. At least not this side of the Atlantic. I only knew what a gap year was because there was a British girl who, to my understanding, worked with kids in our junior school (elementary) and stayed in the school’s residence (boarding). Would I have taken a year off if more people did it? Sure.
My parents, however, probably would disagree. Typically, people who take gap years volunteer in developing countries, something which would freak them out. After all, I had a hard enough time convincing them a REAL sleep away camp would be good for me (opposed to an enrichment program at a boarding school or university campus. You know, where one sleeps in a building with “proper” conveniences). I think this kind of thinking is very “typical” of immigrants who’ve become successful. They just don’t “get” why one would want to live in what they call “deplorable” conditions to help, say, build schools. They feel that it would be a difficult adjustment. Well, that’s the entire point of this, right?
The point of a gap year is to experience something different. Sure, one can take a year off to become an au pair in Europe while learning a new language, but one is still living in comfort. When you are building homes in a South American or African country, however, it is something entirely different. You are doing something good to improve the lives of many in a community, which seems much more satisfying. However, immigrant parents, especially those who are successful, professional, suburban types, seem to do as much as they can to shelter their children from any kind of hardship.
I honestly don’t understand. While it might still not be “real” because one gets to come home to all the comforts of a “first world” country after one year, it’s still better to “experience” it first hand – even from a foreigner’s eyes. Seeing something on television or online is NOT the same thing. You don’t get to “feel” it first hand. Of course, you then have the left criticizing you of going just to be that “western saviour” (I hesitate to say “white,” since many young people who take gap years are NOT white – no matter what the super-left media may feel (yes, I’m looking at YOU Salon and Jezebel) and that it’s another form of colonialism. Ummm, okay, that’s a whole other post, so I’m not going to get into it other than to say that I disagree.
Would I encourage my any kids I have to take a gap year? It isn’t for me to say. Encouraging a child to take a gap year is like encouraging a child to attend your alma mater. It isn’t something for YOU to say. I mean, I’d LIKE any child I have to go to Queen’s (after all, there are family connections on both sides), but I wouldn’t freak out if he or she chose to go to, say, Western (family connection there as well, on my end). However, I wouldn’t actively DISCOURAGE them. I wouldn’t tell them that they’d feel sad seeing such conditions nor would I tell them they’re just “wasting time” by taking a year off school. It’s still an educational experience, even if one is not in a classroom. But what am I to say? I never did anything like that. And I’m also not an “immigrant parent.”
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