A gap year is when a student takes a year off between his or her college years and university years. Yes. There are Malaysians out there who do take gap years. As for me, it’s not just one, but two. This personal recount was written with the intention of debunking the Malaysian and Asian myth that the possibility of gap years should be absolutely dismissed.
Gap Period: June 2011 – September 2013 (+2 gap years)
- Pre University College: CIE A Levels
- Taylor’s College Subang Jaya
- University: Chemical Engineering via Natural Sciences
- University of Cambridge (starting October 2013)
Why Gap Year?
I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I used to consider medicine but it wasn’t feasible: family wasn’t supportive of the decision and I had no financial support (local university inclusive). I didn’t know where I wanted to go and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. The situation was exacerbated when counselors weren’t very helpful and I had no proper guidance from anyone regarding my future. I kept dragging this inevitable question and before I know it, I’ve already graduated from A levels and my peers were off to University (mostly in overseas ones).
If it is not happy it is not the end
Life Story: 2011-2012
After 1.5 years of taking a gap year(s), never have I felt more enlightened, matured, and grateful from this bittersweet 2012. In retrospect, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I were to just settle with the easiest option.
Snippets of my gap: In Korea
So it was August 2011. That marked the absolute end of my Pre U life. I started reflecting on myself: as far as I can remember, the whole of 2011 was a blur with series of confusions. I was taking my A levels then and by the time I’ve decided on Chemical Engineering, most of the University applications were already closed, and I was left with just a few options that wasn’t even what I wanted. Timelines weren’t clear to me and when it comes to university placements, everything was a huge blur. There was a sense of dissatisfaction inside of me, because I was apparently limited if I were to depend on my family’s income to support my tertiary studies (I come from a large family and I would be the first child to pursue a degree. Heck, I’m the first Science student). Then I realized I was severely limited again when I considered the date—I’ve already graduated and term was about to begin! I cannot blame myself because everyone matures and settles on a specific path at different times.
Naming specific schools wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do here so let’s just say I had a clear decision for some time—double degree in chemical engineering and economics. For the University, I quickly resorted to the first choice offered to me. Why did I opt for that? I really just wanted to get out of this tertiary education web-tangle. It was a difficult thing to understand and timelines were nothing but a big blur. By September I became miserable and I realized how lonely I felt in this entire sticky situation. Farewells were rampant and I began to miss all my friends. At around this point was when I had decided to take a leap of faith to apply to the UK (aside from Singapore). If I am able to obtain an offer with external funding— good for me! But if not, then well at least I’ve tried and I could do some other things before starting University. Whatever the reason I knew it wouldn’t be a waste of time though I occasionally felt very much lost.
Snippets of my gap: Free tickets to London
Coming back to the situation: I talked about my problem to some people. Many have encouraged me to apply to the UK and the US. Perhaps I have “nothing” to lose if I do not take emotional investment into account. If all goes well, I might be able to have external funding. So at that point of time, it was less than a week (five days to be more specific) till the Cambridge University application deadline. Never have I imagined myself applying to places like that—perhaps I have underestimated myself. Then again I felt kind of ashamed by my lack of inspiration back in school and it was only during my Pre U did I realize what an “Olympiad” is (NOT to be confused with Olympics!). With so many students with non-human abilities, who am I to stand a chance against them? Then this article about a Cambridge student who recently passed away came out; the inspirations I have from it was when I shoved pessimism and prudency aside and just try my best without thinking of the outcome.
Although my decision to apply to such overseas institutions was kind of late even for the 2012 entry, I was very determined. I started my UCAS from scratch and the five days felt like hell. Alongside my UK application was my US one. This was when I was introduced to the SAT and the world of US Apps. I took the SAT subject test in October; SAT 1 in November; and a retake of the SAT 1 in December. The rest of my time was filled with essays and going back to high school and college for teacher recommendations. I was kind of embarrassed every time I went back to college and high school since my teachers were expecting me to be in University or something—but like I said I shove every emotional distraction aside, so that includes ego. Christmas and New Year was essentially non-existent.
Then came the pleasant surprise—I’ve received an unconditional offer from Cambridge. The downside? It is a DEFERRED OFFER! What? Another gap year! I’ve been offered a place in a mature college in Cambridge so there is nothing much I can do. Elation overrides the feeling of taking another gap year anyway! I should rewind a bit before I continue: I’m a history freak. I love European History. I’m also very much guilty of being an anglophile. In fact one of my hobbies is to write about historical stuff (see here: theirhistory.blogspot.com) so it was no wonder that Cambridge turned out to be my dream school no matter the rest of the university outcomes.
Despite the shocking euphoria that caused my insomnia and temporary numbness on my fingers and head, it was already made clear that it doesn’t guarantee my journey to Cambridge—I needed funding. Although I was more confident in myself, the possibility that I had to turn down my dream offer feels so daunting. In fact, my worries came to its full-exaggerated glory when I am reminded that this is a deferred offer: would anyone be willing to sponsor me? With such a problem, am I supposed to wait till it's 2013 to apply? But wouldn't that be a huge risk? Am I supposed to go to other Universities should I receive a scholarship offer? My mind was brimming with such questions and really at that point of time, all I hoped for was this gap year.
Snippets of my gap: society events in Bali
Lo and behold! My dream came true! Reality still feels like a dream sometimes and I feel grateful everyday. Of course I’ve left the details of the strenuous scholarship applications out. In fact it was online forums that helped me all the way and for that, I am thankful and have decided to contribute back whenever I have the time to spare. Some other things I did during my gap year was to travel; be active in society and community work; learning miscellaneous stuffs; doing miscellaneous stuffs; get out of the comfort zone and to socialize; get an internship job; and the list goes on! It is a common misconception that people would be doing absolutely nothing during their gap year because I’ve never felt more busy; pensive; outgoing; changed; challenged; matured; free from responsibilities; happy and grateful in any 1.5-year period in my life!
I still have another 9 to 10 more months to go before I head off to university. So that’s approximately a brand new gap year anyway. I hope I’ve inspired the young Malaysians out there-- especially the ones currently on a gap year-- to dare to dream and not take other peoples’ judgements too seriously. Of course there is hope! Not to mention the consideration of taking a “gap year” which is a term very alien to us Asians. Venturing into the unknown makes you stronger, with lots of self-discoveries along the way.
And my two cents: please try to plan for your future earlier. This is a personal regret of mines.
I’ve come a long way where maturity, courage, patience, and humility are concerned. I concede that a gap year is not an entirely comfortable feeling and many times have I felt melancholic whenever I notice that my peers and even my juniors have become my seniors. Sure we all get excited because we don’t know what’s up ahead and what they’re experiencing right now. Sure it kind of sucks to know all your friends have left once again for their second year and you are left here wondering for two years now on what it’s like to be like them having gone through the conventional method; you only have one life after all. I guess that’s the setback most people fear when it comes to taking a gap year; you’re the hipster and eccentric one. But think back and question yourself if it matters if you graduate 2 years later than your previous peers in 10 years time-- I bet people wouldn't even notice. Is 2 years even significant for something as meaningless as age? Age is but a number and would eventually lose its significance over time. You're still going through the same life processes and it's a misconception that the 2 years would be left idle or fruitless. More importantly, your time spent in university would eventually be the same once you graduate and you're not learning lesser than anyone else. Instead of blunders, you would be more mentally prepared and matured as you start your university years. So stop comparing yourself with others because they’ll probably change their minds once they graduate, and many people can attest to this! In a personal front, I know that one thing is for sure—I’ve never regretted this 1.5 gap years to the point of being grateful for having gone through it. Sides, people have often mistaken my age in a good way!
So that’s for the cons—the insecurity. Now the perks of having a gap year override the cons if you can appreciate and fully utilize your free time. Whenever people start to wonder how do I even have so much of time to put so much of thought into a particular topic, I would always have to remind them that I am on a gap year so it’s not surprising that I muse or know that much.
Next, your time is in your hands and you have full control over it. There will be no other period in your life where you have the luxury to do so, save for your retirement days. However this is definitely the time to embrace your youth. My first gap year was spent on university and scholarship applications so this second one is essentially the “live life to the fullest” sort. Yes I do study, work, muse, write, and read up a lot to improve myself but that’s supposed to be secondary in your gap year. If you want to know my totally hipster side I actually tried hiking! That would be very shocking if you realize I’m naturally the knitting and cat-loving sort of girl. Okay that’s just being hyperbolic but seriously I was such an introvert.
In conclusion, I hope that my readers here would dismiss the typical Asian mentality that all hopes are gone if you are to take a gap year. It doesn’t signify you’re a loser and it is no indication that you will be. To the people who have never heard of the existence of a gap year before reading this, this is just to inform you that there are many alternatives in life, and the conventional methods are not necessarily the best for you as an individual.
This is a repost from mindthegapmalaysia.wordpress.com To know more about Celine Wan, you can visit about.me/celinewan
► Read more on Gap Year Experience Sharing: Mind The GAPS