Whether it's to gain work experience, clock volunteer hours, travel with friends, pursue a passion project, or reconnect with their roots, there are a multitude of reasons why students from all around the world choose to defer a semester, or a year from school. And with the hard-hitting pandemic, the decision to take a gap year has proven to be a wise alternative to spending days in front of a computer screen, only to re-enter the tiresome cycle of unproductivity online school presents.
Despite the abounding advantages of taking a gap year, many are still unfamiliar with its concept and believe taking time off from routine involves traveling aimlessly, or wasting time. So, what is a gap year — and how might it look during a global pandemic?
In the hopes of breaking the myth that most students take gap years only to party (though arguably advantageous on occasion), we sat down with four Vietnamese students who have decided to defer their admissions to university to hear about what they have been up to, their biggest takeaways, and their advice to those who are also considering a gap year.
First up is Thanh Doan. Thanh graduated from Saigon South International School in 2020 and plans to continue his academic endeavors at Johns Hopkins University in the Fall of 2021 as a double major in molecular biology and public health, and potentially, a minor in bioethics.
One project I have been able to invest a lot of time into is my Nato Bean Research. I'm growing my own batch of Japanese fermented beans to study their effects on improving heart health — something I've always been passionate about. I hope to produce my own medicine with them someday! I have also been able to dedicate a lot of time working with local organizations to raise awareness on period poverty and menstrual hygiene by supplying reusable menstrual pads around Vietnam.
My biggest challenge was also my biggest lesson. School gave me a lot of structure, which I found comfort in. And this gap year has forced me to take more agency over my schedule, which quite frankly, is very difficult to do, but also freeing. I've been able to remove myself from routine and consider what my priorities are. In a way, this year has given me a fuller grasp of my identity. Oftentimes, students start university with an initial idea that they really fixate on. And down the line, they realize that it's not something they want to pursue. A gap year will definitely mitigate that problem.
My advice for those taking a gap year? Give Vietnam the opportunity to charm you by showing you what it has within its borders. Be brave enough to spend an afternoon walking around hidden alleyways that you've never walked around before. And take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Don't be afraid to seek opinions from different people. You'll learn a lot about yourself, guaranteed.
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Emily graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon School and plans to attend Tufts University in Massachusetts this upcoming fall semester as a communications and economics major.
The majority of my gap year has been spent working as a graphic designer and marketing assistant with my dad at Aramour, our family's own coffee shop in Thao Dien. This gap year has presented a multitude of challenges for me, but it has also opened my eyes to all the beauty within the borders of Vietnam, especially the beauty of specialty coffee! What people don't realize is that there are a lot of steps that need to be taken to truly honor the beans, which means that the process is extremely people-oriented.
There are different brewing methods to be considered, the type of beans, presentation, etc. So the second bonus of my job besides working with coffee all day is having the opportunity to meet all these amazing coffee-fanatics like myself from around Vietnam. And I get to learn something new every single day because of it. I definitely could see myself returning home after my studies to work in the specialty coffee industry, and perhaps even help my dad run and expand Aramour.
After an afternoon spent coffee cupping and brewing, my evenings are at the studio taking hip hop classes, something I used to do quite often before moving to the US for high school. So another highlight of my gap year has been the ability to reconnect with old hobbies.
To be honest, taking a gap year was never something that crossed my mind because I really enjoy school. But it has forced me to step out of the normal academic structure I'm comfortable with. It has almost been like an opportunity for me to "rebrand" myself by exploring my roots more. Like a lot of students who leave to study abroad at a young age, I've always felt like I was never fully in touch with my Vietnamese identity.
This gap year has gifted me the time I've always needed to reconcile and ameliorate that, and the chance to find security in my Vietnamese roots by understanding my country's heritage better.
My advice to others considering a gap year is to enter with an open mind. It’s very easy to feel isolated when you're not working. I definitely struggled with this towards the beginning. But you shouldn't let that fear ground you into anything early on. Don't be afraid to branch out to try new things, participate in community events, local clubs, workshops, film premieres, etc. The world is your oyster. Do as you please!
Chau Dang is a former student of Fordham University in New York City and plans to transfer to Babson College in Massachusetts to pursue her interest in Business and Finance for her junior year.
I started my gap year working in digital marketing at my dad's company, but quickly realized that it wasn't for me. So I switched over to manage his hot pot restaurants in Nha Trang and Da Lat instead, which was much more rewarding. I would even say that it's probably the highlight of my gap year so far because of how much it has allowed me to nurture my professional growth.
I'm no longer skimming through textbooks memorizing theoretical case studies anymore, I actually get to apply my knowledge and get hands-on experience. Plus, I get to travel up to both cities almost every weekend. I have a better idea of what I'm going to school for, so now I actually know how to make the most of the education I'm receiving in college.
Outside of work, I signed myself up for workshops in photoshop, digital marketing, public speaking, as well as finance management — everything I wanted to learn at school but couldn't because of the strict academic curriculum. But here, I can study anything I want to and properly apply what I learn into my day-to-day as well. One skill I've picked up that has become a hobby is boxing. It's definitely something I want to carry on doing after my gap year.
Another highlight of my gap year is definitely all of the new friends I made during my time at quarantine camp, as well as the old friends I was lucky enough to reconnect with. I recently had the opportunity to cave Son Doong with some of them too!
Besides spending time with my friends, I've also been able to nourish my familial relationships, which is something that's arguably quite difficult to do abroad. So I'm extremely grateful for the time I have now to spend with them.
I would recommend that students, especially those who don't know what to do and need time to figure themselves out, take a gap year either before or after college. It's a chance for you to press restart. And besides figuring out your professional goals as I did, you'll definitely experience some kind of character growth. Trust me!
Minh Anh Nguyen
Minh Anh is transferring from the University of British Columbia in Canada to Pitzer College in California for her junior year of university. She is currently based in Hanoi and is taking her second gap year.
I'm currently working in media at Open Asia Corporate Hanoi. Part of my job used to be pressing samples of branded clothes and sending them to different influencers and key opinion leaders, but now I've moved to production — something I definitely see myself doing down the road. I spend most of my work hours photo editing, holding shoots, creating spaces where people can create from. It's extremely rewarding to see something from your imagination come to life. I'm finally able to take initiative over my own professional career.
I took my first gap year right after high school, and spent the majority of it with friends. This gap year though, I’ve taken on a different mentality.
My job takes a lot out of me, but I'm constantly surrounded by creatives who share the same “work hard, play hard” mindset, so it's alright. Sometimes after office hours, we would treat ourselves to a karaoke party together. It's quite funny if you ask me — a bunch of people of all different ages; parents, their managers, recent university graduates, all partying in a little cocktail lounge together. It's a little difficult to find friends my age where I work, but in my opinion, there are perks to that too. There is a lot more I can learn from my coworkers because they're always passing down wisdom and experiences to me.
An unprecedented challenge I faced was definitely managing a long-distance relationship at the beginning of the year. I had to change a lot of my day-to-day to make time for my partner. Getting over the heartbreak definitely took a toll on me as well, but a gift this gap year has given me is the ability to pursue my own happiness, which is something I'm truly grateful for.
My advice to those looking to take a gap year is to not condemn yourself for partying, or for working too much. The magic of the gap year is that you can do whatever you want; it's a year for you. Opportunities will show up, you just have to seize them. I'd even recommend that people take a gap year every 2-3 years.
It's a fantastic opportunity to make some change to your routine and will help you see with fresh eyes and become better at your work and/or your learning. This year has given me the chance to explore my own humanness. I am much more in touch with myself — something that's easy to forget to do when I'm constantly surrounded by academics. There's still a lot that I want to work on, but a lesson that has come out of this year thus far has been to be honest and patient with myself.