MARCH 6 — I was having a conversation with a few friends the other day and they were all reminiscing about the antics they got up to during their gap years before they started medicine. About half the people in my 250-strong year group took a gap year after their A-levels to go and “find themselves”, and the fluffiness of the concept was initially strange to my goal-driven mind.
When I was in the sweltering heat of Kuala Lumpur doing my A-levels, all I wanted to do was go to university. My friends and I used to talk about the future together and we just couldn’t wait to start our new lives either locally or abroad, doing the degree that would lead us to the career that we had always wanted to pursue.
I imagine that this hasn’t changed much amongst Malaysian college students within the past three years.
A gap year is taken usually between the completion of a pre-university qualification like STPM or A-levels and the actual commencement of a degree programme. Students from all over the world who take gap years will usually work in an area of interest to earn some money to be used to explore their options, whether or not these take the form of travelling, volunteering abroad, learning new skills such as dancing or a new instrument, and really getting an experience of the real world and thinking about who they are, what they want and how they are going to achieve it.
Truth is, I didn’t really know what a gap year was for when I was in KL. It wasn’t, and probably still isn’t common practice, and only a few of my friends opted for it. These people were looked upon with suspicion by everyone else. “Why do you think she’s gone and done a gap? Do you think she didn’t get an offer anywhere?” Parents would talk about their friends’ children and shake their heads thinking about the many evils that could befall so and so’s son if he were to just go off on his own and not be safely on his way to success by enrolling in university.
However, slightly over halfway through my course now, I actually wish I’d done a gap year. I didn’t expect to have the soft carpet of my childhood yanked rudely away from underneath me the moment I began my degree. I didn’t really think about all the other things I would like to do in my life apart from being a doctor. Now that I am en route to doctor-hood I actually wish that I had taken some time out before maturity caught up with me and done some travelling or explored my abilities in cooking or photography, and maybe learned a new language. And I think it’s a bit too late to do some of these things now that my family and I have invested time, effort and money sending me to university, and I need to begin working soon after I graduate in order to begin to try to earn some of it back.
So, if you haven’t worked it out already, this article is written in support of gap years. I think that if you are a pre-university student you should really consider doing one, and if you are a parent you should really consider suggesting one for your child. There is no shame in pursuing a gap year, it is not “running away” from doing a degree, nor is it anything to do with getting a place at university for most people.
In fact, you could actually argue that it takes a braver person to embark on a gap year instead of following the well-worn road of going straight from school to university and later on their jobs. Gap years don’t have to be expensive, and if you are willing to go out and work part-time or even full-time for a part of it to earn enough to fund the rest of it, you’ll be quite set. And at the end of the whole thing, if you decide to enter university, you’ll be a little more sure of yourself and ready to enter the world properly, not to mention you’ve probably picked up lots of CV points and important skills along the way.
Some of my friends have done aid work in war zones, others taught English in rural Nepalese villages, some did research work, others went out and modelled, and one of my friends even joined the circus and toured the US performing as a trapeze artist. All these people are now going to be doctors. The options are out there. All we need to do is look for them.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.