Just finished your Class XII exams and are burnt out badly' If you can’t figure out what it is you want to do for the next three or four years of your life, you do have options. You could, for instance, choose to drop out of the system — if only for a year.
The “gap year” phenomenon, popular in the West where students take time off to explore the world or work for a while before rushing into the rigours of college, has caught on here. Students, even the ones who aren’t trying to crack the Joint Entrance Examinations, are convincing their parents to let them take a year off to choose their path based on experience, not instinct.
Time off helps pack in such activities that students previously found difficult to manage along with academic pressures of school. ‘Gappers’ see their year off as an opportunity to explore future career choices, travel and take a few extra courses. They realise that choices taken during this time will affect the rest of their lives, making a gap year an opportunity for self-exploration.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study and I definitely didn’t want to end up studying a subject for three-four years only to realise that it was wrong for me,” explains Rohinee Ghosh, a graduate of Calcutta International School.
Taeyouk Lee, an art graduate from the same school agrees. “I took a gap year to expand my views and thoughts, understand why I want to do art and what field of art I would later specialise in.” So, he is interning with a graphic design company for experience, visiting art exhibitions, and meeting artists. Still just a frivolous waste of time' Maybe not.
Despite a gap year being an opportunity for indulging in varied activities, there is always the danger of coming out with little but a recollection of a blur of action or the opposite, having whiled away time doing virtually nothing. So some kind of structure and purpose is useful.
Internships in publishing, films and media are perhaps the most popular options for gappers. Many students also spend time volunteering with charitable organisations.
In fact, several city NGOs have developed a structured gap year volunteer placement programme owing to its increasing popularity.
Though a gap year may start out slow, students soon find themselves in the thick of things. Rishav Kapur remembers: “I went to Pune with my band to play there. Unfortunately, nothing went as planned, but my experiences from the time would hold true for ever.” Joykrit Mitra, too, found his gap year “more beneficial than any other year of my life”. Rohinee, still on her break, defends her choice. “I don’t think what I’m doing now is any less important as a growing experience.”
While students definitely don’t seem to mind the gap, many parents are still ambivalent.
“Sadly, my parents did not take it well at all initially, as the concept of a gap year is still considered tantamount to flunking in India,” remembers Joykrit, now a student of Adelphi College, USA. “When you’re taking a gap year for getting into IIT it’s cool. Otherwise it’s seen as just a waste of time,” says Rishav, an Army School graduate now in St Xavier’s College.
Some parents are more supportive, however. Says Taeyouk’s mother, C.. Chung: “As an artist myself, I realise the importance of exploration and decision-making, especially when it comes to the arts. A year off helps one take the baby steps required to take the giant steps later on.”
Gap years are for those willing to take a risk and do something out of the box. And given how confused most 18-year-olds are, perhaps it is time that more students were encouraged to venture out before they have to commit to the rest of their professional lives.
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