When our daughter was in Class 10, Fiona and I asked her if she wanted to take a year off after Class 12. She looked at us in shock because many of her friends had wanted to take a gap year and their parents had refused. And here were her parents suggesting that she take a gap year!
What’s a gap year? It’s a sabbatical year normally taken before or after college. According to ‘The History of the Gap Year’, they started in the 1960s as cultural exchanges to create global awareness and understanding to prevent future world wars. Soon many travellers started looking for a richer spiritual life and young kids started coming to India.
Travel was a key part of the gap years in those days. And the cheaper, the better. Lonely Planet’s first book was Across Asia on the Cheap. One of the earliest online social network sites was gapyear.com. Today there are many organisations that run profitable businesses managing gap years, some of which are very fancy.
But we are cheap parents and our kids are anyways the DIY type. Mihika spent nine months on a scholarship at Danceworx in Mumbai, dancing around eight hours a day, managing their Bandra studio and teaching school kids in Malad and Tardeo. She lived her dream. Mihika worked on her dance technique, managed people and taught young kids.
She had planned on travelling after her scholarship, but enjoyed herself so much that she stayed on for the rest of the year.
Khashiff, focussed on getting as far away from his parents as he could—three months in Ladakh and seven months on Havelock Island, in the Andamans. In Ladakh he volunteered with 17000 Ft Foundation and for one of those three months he mapped schools in Kargil District, where he travelled between villages on foot or inside or on top of buses.
We did not hear from him for days at a stretch because he had no connectivity and often he had to climb a mountain to get a phone signal. At Barefoot Scuba he lived in a tiny hut on the beach with a mattress, a mosquito net, a light point and a fan and scuba dived every day. He also lived his dream. Fiona, in jest, worried that he was having such a blast that he would not want to go back to studying. But as the end of their gap years neared, both were ready to go to college.
Mihika and Khashiff talk about how much they matured during their gap year. They became more confident. They became more independent. They also had a better idea of what they wanted to pursue in college. And we saw the changes.
I’ve always said that we will live, on average, till we are at least 75. So, if you can afford to take a year off, what’s the hurry to start college or to start working? Both our kids secured their admission to college when they were in Class 12 and then deferred admission by a year. This way they knew where they were going to go a year later and did not have to spend time on college admissions during their gap years. We also encouraged them to do non-academic stuff in their gap year. What they chose to do was their decision and their choice was driven by their passion.
Many parents worry that their kids will find it tough to get back to studying after a year of not studying. Not true—our kids didn’t find it tough to go back to their books. Many parents feel that their kids will lose out if they start working later in life. Not true—I started at Citibank when I was 28, when most of my classmates were a few years senior to me at work; that gap disappeared very quickly.
Kids worry that they will miss being around their classmates from school, who will end up senior to them. Not true—Mihika still hangs out with her classmates from high school, even though they graduated at different times from different parts of the world. And she also made a host of new friends along the way.
So, go ahead and let your kids take a gap year. It will help them gain a lot more from their college experience and have a load of memories and connections that will help them later in life.