Have you been considering taking a gap year? Maybe you want to pursue an interest, learn a new language, or go and see this big world. Whatever the reason, you’re not alone!
We speak with many young Canadians about the importance of travel and the opportunities it provides for professional and personal development. Unfortunately, we still hear concerns about various pressures they feel to stay in the path expected of them.
When we were planning our gap years, we also heard discouraging words from our parents and peers. “You’ll never go back to school if you stop now,” or “it won’t look good on your resume” and “you won’t be able to get a job in this economy when you’re back.” The real truth is, whatever you’ve been told about taking a gap year (or extended travel in general) is false! Here’s 10 reasons why:
A gap year is technically when a high school graduate postpones entering post-secondary for one year to pursue travel, work, or volunteering. For many, the thought of hitting pause for an entire year can be daunting (especially to your parents). But a gap year doesn’t need to be a year at all! It could be a month, a semester, or a summer between semesters. It could happen after graduation, years into your career or even after you’re married. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong time to take a gap year (or gap experience) because there is no right or wrong timeline for how you live your life.
Meeting new people, seeing new places and being in situations you’ve never faced before will make you grow as a person. It’s a good opportunity to discover who you are and what your strengths are outside of a classroom setting.
In high school, I excelled in biology and chemistry. I went straight into university enrolled in the sciences faculty thinking I had it all figured out. That first year of classes was extremely frustrating because I hated what I was studying! The following summer after finishing my exams I went on my first working holiday to Australia. Four months later I returned home with more confidence, a clearer picture of what I wanted to do with my career and a renewed lust for life! I switched out of sciences into business, loved going to my new classes and even landed a prestigious internship the following summer.
Going abroad on a working holiday helped me make some critical realizations at an early stage in my post-secondary career.
My mom says that summer I, “came out of my shell.” The truth is that I was finally in a setting where I could navigate life on my own, gain independence and grow into an adult – something that I had not been fully able to do while living in my parent’s basement buried in science lab assignments. Those four months traveling and working in Australia were time, money and amazing life experiences I have never looked back on!
Before you invest thousands of dollars and years of your life into your post-secondary education, it might be worthwhile to try out your intended career field to make sure you even like it! After completing a standard high school curriculum, it is very difficult for students to understand what a career in law, finance, education, or social work, for example, will be like. Yet, we expect students to choose their career path without knowing what their field of work will be like on a day-to-day basis.
There are a few ways to get a better understanding of what working in your desired field will be like. One way is to do some job shadowing. This may take a bit of leg work to find someone who is willing to have you join them for a week or more. If you’re lucky, you might know someone who can get you an entry-level position with a company.
Another option is to do an internship. But how do you get an internship in your desired career field without prior experience? Well, that’s why these types of internships are unpaid. An unpaid internship is truly more of a learning experience (and doubles as work experience) that will pay off when you realize that field either is or isn’t for you before you invest thousands into your education. Then, when you are looking for your first job, you’ve already got some work experience in your field. It’s a win-win!
Following the last point, if you wait until after your degree to decide that accounting isn’t really what you’re interested in, you might decide to start over in another field – or worse, settle and try to find something similar where your skills transfer (but you really aren’t interested in either).
In my case, my realization that I needed to change my area of study happened after just one year of tuition. If I hadn’t gone on a working holiday, I may have continued in sciences and only realized after paying for the entire degree that it wasn’t for me. I saved thousands of dollars (and years of unhappiness) by switching programs early on in my post-secondary career – all thanks to taking some time to travel and get to know myself a little better!
In our parent’s generation, getting a degree meant a job, a pension, a house and three weeks of annual vacation. These days youth enter the workforce facing a very different landscape. Industries have evolved at a much faster rate than Canada’s education system and created a large skills gap in the workforce. The reality today is that you are only likely to get called for an interview if you have relevant work experience to support your degree.
Here’s where doing an unpaid internship option will give you the ‘foot-in-the-door’ you might need to give off your career. The benefits you gain from that internship will only compound as you get offered better and better jobs because of that baseline experience that set you apart from the competition. Doing an unpaid internship for even just one month in international relations in Chile is going to set you apart from a candidate who has the same degree and one month of paid work experience in Canada. And you will have had the amazing experience of living in South America!
Working, living and traveling abroad demonstrates highly desireable personal and professional traits like taking initiative, seeking personal growth, independence, overcoming challenges, experience handling uncertain situations, increased problem-solving skills, exposure to new perspectives, thinking outside the box, adaptability, and the list goes on. You should include these qualities on your resume and speak to the worldly experiences that developed them in your interview.
Entering the workforce with some life experience where you gained new perspectives and different ways of thinking sets you apart as a more mature candidate.
A global economy is successfully driven by people who have emotional intelligence and an understanding of other cultures and ways of doing business. If you intend to pursue a career in a field that spans outside domestic markets, it is extremely beneficial to have international experience on your resume. In fact, every type of organization, no matter the industry, can benefit from bringing on people who have international experience.
Companies need new hires to bring new ways of thinking and out-of-the-box problem solving skills to grow the company and innovate industries.
It’s a lot harder to gain new ways of thinking if you don’t expose yourself to experiences beyond what you already know. This leads to the next point.
A lot of in-classroom learning teaches you how to solve problems with instructions provided to you by your teacher. In the working world, no one is going to teach you how to solve an organization’s problems. Otherwise, they would have just solved it themselves! When you enter the workforce you will be given a problem or situation and asked to find a solution yourself.
Undergoing new experiences and challenges while traveling and working abroad helps you gain the skills needed to confidently navigate new problems outside of a controlled classroom setting. Negotiating with a market-seller, getting from point A to point B in a new city, having to reschedule your missed train with spotty wifi are just a few examples of such experiences. They teach you how to weigh out options, make decisions under pressure, build new relationships, stay flexible and open-minded, budget and so much more.
Another important skill you gain from situating yourself in new environments is critical thinking. There isn’t only one way of doing things, and learning this helps you ask why something is done a certain way. Critical thinking is very important when analyzing and interpreting information, optimizing processes for continuous improvement and making decisions.
When trying to stand out from the competition, international experience will distinguish you in the crowd of applicants. Doing an internship in Japan or traveling through South America makes you a more interesting and memorable candidate.
No matter what anyone tells you, you should proudly put your gap year and travel experience on your resume.
List out the length of time you were abroad, places you visited and the skills you gained during your experience. List out challenges you faced, and how you overcame them. Even if the only challenge you faced was homesickness, you can demonstrate self-awareness and took initiative to overcome it. Someone who can identify problems and takes steps to solve them is the type of candidate an employer is looking for. Even the founder of the new grad recruitment site Talent Egg agrees, taking the initiative to travel and work or volunteer abroad makes you stand out from the competition.
Taking a break will help you refresh your mind and gain a new perspective on the opportunities we are lucky to have in Canada. On my working holiday, I worked on a zucchini farm doing incredibly monotonous tasks. This job gave me a swift understanding of what my life could be like without an education or vocation. To my parent’s delight, I was very excited to go back to school upon my return to Canada. Of course, I got the travel bug and sought out ways to continue my global education throughout my degree. There are so many ways to continue traveling throughout your education! The fun doesn’t have to stop after your gap year.
Step back and take some time to figure out what makes you happy. Even if you have begun your studies and it isn’t what you expected (as was the case for me), don’t just finish your program because you don’t know what else to do. If you aren’t enjoying your studies, then you are really not going to enjoy your field of work. Take Daniella for example, a 20-year-old University of Toronto student who decided to take a gap year after an unsatisfying first year in psychology. It’s okay to hit pause and seek out other options!
Taking 1 year off is not going to set you back. Instead, it will propel you forward with more self-awareness in a critical time in your youth as you develop into an adult and decide the course of your life.
Based out of Vancouver, Canada, Stepabroad has opportunities for Canadians to gain personal and professional growth through working holidays and international internships. Our team coordinates every aspect of the work and travel process for Canadians across the country. As a recognized organization of the Government of Canada’s International Experience Program, we are proud to help Canadians embark on an enriching experience abroad. We offer programs in five unique destinations around the globe, including Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Japan and the United Kingdom. You can read more about us here.
We’re also a proud partner of the Canadian Gap Year Association, who provides resources and tools for planning a gap experience and leading the gap year movement in Canada.
If you have questions about our programs or taking a gap experience, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 1 (778) 512-7837. Our office is open Monday to Friday 9am – 5:30pm PST. We would love to chat with you about your interest in travel and working abroad!