In high school, my aspirations weren’t always simple—nor were they always mine. Swayed by the prestige and ranking of my high school, students would aim to be at the top, while at the same time put others down in the process. Although in an academic sense the school I attended was excellent, the environment took a mental toll on me; I felt as if I had lost myself.
"In high school, my aspirations weren't always simple—nor were they always mine."
I was taught from a young age that the best shot I had at success was to know what I wanted to accomplish in life early on. This ideology continued to define my understanding of success up until the end of my gap year. I had classmates who had big ambitions and I felt that in order to fit in with the crowd, I too, needed to have the same ambitions; that was what I convinced myself into believing.
Graduating in 2019
However, by graduation, I made the decision to take a year off from my academics as I just wasn’t ready to take that leap into post-secondary education. I had applied to universities and colleges earlier that year, but I was still very indecisive of what I wanted. Many programs appealed to me, yet I still had doubts as to whether the program genuinely interested me. Ultimately, I decided that it was financially more appropriate for me to take a year off instead of wasting money going into a program I wasn’t too sure on to begin with—so that's what I did.
1. The Backlash that (May) Follow
My decision to take a gap year came with a lot of judgment and criticism from family and classmates, those whom I had never been close to. It shocked them when they asked what program I was going into that I couldn’t give them an answer. This was one of the first lessons I learned and something I continued to endure throughout my year. Their responses to my personal choice led me to believe that there is often a negative connotation attached to taking a gap year. Especially belonging to an Asian household, it just isn't considered the norm.
I believe that for people who want to consider going through a gap year, you must endure the constant judgment and criticism. Over time, as you begin to acknowledge your choices and define your own individual worth, you will develop confidence in yourself. It is my belief that this is an essential skill in both life and work; to differentiate between constructive criticism that builds you up, and the unnecessary criticism that serves no purpose. Not everything will matter and, in the end, it’s your journey and no one else's.
"In the end, it's your journey and no one else's."
2. A Journey of Self-Discovery and Growth
With regards to this journey we call “education," mine has been focused on self-discovery and growth. Being exposed to different environments, I constantly pushed to seek new knowledge and experiences. I used my spare time to enroll in free online courses that universities were offering, such as Chemistry and Ophthalmology, while volunteering to help raise awareness for homelessness in Calgary.
In my gap year, I developed an interest in advocating for others—a step that was key in determining what I wanted to pursue in life. This slowly grew to a passion with help from my interest in the ophthalmology course I was enrolled in. For the first time in a long time, I felt that I had finally found a dream that was solely mine and not one influenced by others. I was finally proud of who I had become. Not only was I able to determine what I wanted to do, but I grew from many experiences within that timeframe that helped to develop my character, as well as the financial knowledge and literacy that I gained while working.
"I had finally found a dream that was solely mine and not one influenced by others."
3. Put Yourself Out There
A gap year is something I recommend high school students to consider. Going into post-secondary is a huge decision to make. If you aren’t sure of which program to take, a gap year is an option that works for many. Whether it's taking some time to reflect and travel (in a post-pandemic world), you are at a prime age to take a year off before entering into two or more years of higher education.
Put yourself out there. I encourage you to learn a lot about life, gain essential skills, and learn about your passions and your dreams. A gap year might just be what you need to help make that happen.
About the Author:
Angela Siauw is a first year student at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's Vision Science Optician program in Calgary, Alberta. She graduated from Foundations For the Future Charter Academy in 2019.
Read her full bio on our Communications Team page.