If you're considering a gap year, do it. It's the scariest, most challenging thing I 've ever done, but I 've had the best time of my life - and it's not even over yet! I think one of the things that I've learnt is to push myself. Pushing myself to do things out of my comfort zone, to improve and speak more in Spanish, travel, work, budget, cook for myself and get out of the boat and walk on the water. So here are a few things I've learnt along the way:
1. It's so good to have a break from education
To fully rest yourself, not just physically, but mentally. In my case, having time off from studying has made me even more excited to go to Uni and start again!
2. It opens up your eyes to things in the wider world
I realised that the world isn't revolved around my little personal bubble. There are people who need to be shown that God is alive, at work, and living in all of us! We must help those who need it most, and be flexible with what we have, our time, money and resources! This really challenged me, especially after doing a session looking at poverty in the world.
3. After doing things in a foreign country - doing anything at home is a piece of cake
Getting to the town in Spain where I'm working was no straightforward journey! I had to catch a flight, bus, train and coach, navigating through places I'd never been. It was so exciting though, and I loved the sense of adventure it gave me, and trusting God that He would provide guidance and protection along the way (which He did, in the form of a lovely lady who showed me which bus to get, that stopped outside the train station! Thank you Lord!). After pushing myself to do all of that independently, the next time I do something like that it won't be half as scary! I hope!
4. There will be so many stories!
The time when you got 3 massive pizzas between 40 people for the equivalent of 70p each? Check. The time when you busked in the plaza with your team leader and someone thought you guys were from 'All Sons and Daughters'? Check. The time when you ate boiled eggs, slices of orange and baked potato together, as it's apparently a regional Spanish dish? Check.
5. God can lead you into incredible places, meeting incredible people along the way
He knows what He's doing! The people you meet and places you go can change your life in the most amazing ways.
6. You can pack like a pro
3 months in Bolivia at altitude? 4 months in Spain through winter and summer? All in one 60 litre rucksack? No problem! I bought a really touristy bumbag in Bolivia and have never looked back. Packing like a pro means you can fit in all sorts of presents and things for people back home. Rug for your Uni room that everyone teases you about? Yes. Enamel mugs with flowers on them that were a bargain? Double yes.
7. There are so many options
It doesn't have to be the South East Asia tourist trail, unless you want it to be! You can work, travel, do more educational courses, live abroad, volunteer, you can do pretty much anything.
8. Do what's best for you, and what you feel God is calling you to do
If you're passionate about something, like elephant conservation or hiking, take the opportunity to spend a year/some time doing what you love.
9. If you're applying to uni - defer your entry
This is one of the best decisions I made in preparing for my gap year. It meant that I could go off travelling and have my place all sorted and waiting for me when I got home. Perfect! It also meant I didn't have to worry about going through the system all over again, with personal statement, choices, references and everything else, and it was so great to say to people that I had a plan for the next year. Planning it all in advance gives you peace of mind, and there is always the time to change it if it doesn't seem like the right thing to do. What i'm saying is, if you know what you want to do and where you want to study it, there's no harm in getting it all sorted early :)
10. You pick up new skills
Baking and cooking has definitely been something that I love to do more of now I have the time! Learning to compromise with ingredients in other countries (hello altitude baking!) and learning to cook for myself, plan meals, budget and shop for food, is one of the best skills to learn. It will prepare you so well, not just for university, but living on your own or with others.
I hope you liked reading about some of my experiences. If you haven't already, definitely consider taking a gap year, or if you can't fit a full year in, just a few months! You'll honestly have the best time!