Though the gap year has evolved with time, the end result is always more or less the same – and it boils down to the individual, the outcome and their reaction to the experience.
An original gap year! Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, Image courtesy of Penguin Random House
The concept of the Gap Year is said to have been ignited back in the 1960's, although Jules Verne would probably have argued otherwise. He was dreaming up gap year adventures decades before and his epic novel "Around the World in Eighty Days" can be viewed as one big gap year type adventure.
It is difficult to define a gap year, after all in some countries it is referred to by a different name and often viewed differently. So while some call it a year out or year abroad, others may refer to it as a sabbatical whilst some consider sitting on their parents couch a “Gap Year”.
In the past the traditional concept of an individual embarking on a journey defined a gap year. ‘Go forth and seek some massive life changing adventure’ they would say – with Parents often being the kick starter of such ventures. “Here is a ticket and some money, just make sure you have enough cash to get back home,” some would advise. But what happened on that actual journey often turned out to be a mixture of Forrest Gump, Euro Trip, Eat Pray Love and Back to the Future. It was a rugged, yet open ended and awesome.
However a lot of time has passed since Verne's creations and the rapid commercialization of the gap year naturally occurred. So much so that individuals now have a bouquet of choices that can make the process of choosing a gap year so much more difficult than in the past.
Furthermore, parents and individuals now want more in return for their sponsorship – making it more of an investment than just an obligatory spending. The systemic financial crisis therefore also affects the gap year.
The business side of the gap year has seen a stronger focus: whereby individuals can now specialize in their interests and needs in a structured environment. From sport, education, careers, travel, it has moved from finding ‘what I want to do’ to ‘knowing what I want to do but is it right for me?’ Individuals are now given the opportunity to sample their gap years systematically. This means they don't necessarily have to do an entire year at once and thus using a bouquet of choices and combinations to quench their questionable interests.
The above-mentioned ‘bouquet of choices` and combinations refer to using the mix of modern and traditional views on embarking on a gap year or what is now referred to simply as a ‘hybrid’. And with so many choices available and decisions to be made, the eventual path taken by the individual on a hybrid gap year will follow a particular set of structured processes. That structuring eventually creates clarity for an individual making a choice of the best and well-balanced gap year.
At the end of the day however the individual decides to spend their time on a gap year - be it the old school version of ‘wherever the wind takes me’ (hopefully in a hot air balloon!), or on a structured program. The onus is on the individual to turn it into something worthwhile and substantial.
Having to use concepts such as hybrid and traditional to distinguish taking a break from work or school just shows how relevant the gap year is. It also illustrates that though at the end of the day the individuals’ result should be the same, it is the experience and outcome that determines a great gap year. Perhaps one as epic as a Jules Verne classic!