The concept of taking a Gap Year from study is popular with high school graduates. I have spent a lot of time around teenagers so I have heard a lot about Gap Years. When our daughters crawled over the finish line of high school they were totally set on taking a break – a ‘Gap Year’ from study. So they worked and saved and then went off on an adventure.
In the last years this concept has started taking off among adults too. Maybe we adults need a Gap Year even more! How can it be anything but brilliant to take some time out to gather new energy, inspiration and perspective.
Recently a friend of mine took an Adult Gap Year after a few intense years in her career, and another friend is on one right now with her husband and teen. It takes great courage but my friends say it’s the best thing they have ever done.
Who says adventures are only for young people? How did we get so used to the mousewheel that we forgot to live?
Here is an interview with my fabulous friend Tina who took a year off in 2018. She went to West Papua and Italy and in this interview will share the how, why and where.
Firstly let me introduce Tina. Anyone who knows her would say she is warm, passionate and kind. She is also hard working. Tina is the daughter of Italian migrant parents but has always lived in Australia. She has raised two children (now adults) and also been a teacher for more than 20 years to thousands of other peoples’ children (including mine, who adored her).
More recently she worked in leadership for several years to get a brand new school campus up and running. Not just any school but a very creative one built on Reggio Emilia / Inquiry Learning principles. You can google ‘Reggio’. After pouring all she humanly had into that project she thought it could be good to hand the baton on to someone with new energy. But there were some other reasons she decided to take time out and she explains in this interview. Read on…
Hi Tina, thanks for being interviewed!
What led to your decision to give up your job and home and take time out for an adventure?
Tina: One day I was reading in the Bible about a king called Hezekiah. He was about to die but then God gifted him 15 more years to live. So I asked myself: ‘what I would do if I had only 15 years left?’. I did the maths and realised that in 15 years I would be nearing 70!
I had this overwhelming sense that – ‘when I die I don’t want to be remembered or defined by my job‘. And my job had swallowed my whole identity! It was an amazing job but it involved a lot of responsibility. It consumed all my energy, time, and thinking space. I had no time for my own creativity. My life was further complicated with a marriage that was unravelling. I had also been to a few funerals which had left me contemplating life and the legacy we leave.
All those things led to my epiphany moment; I thought about what things I would want to do if I only had 15 years left to live, and then I wrote them all down.
Next I resigned from my job, and then I sold my house. I was free!
How long was it between deciding to take a Gap Year, and leaving?
Tina : I gave notice at my job in the July, and finished up in the December, of 2017. I packed up my house and then flew out to West Papua on the 1st of April, 2018. In hindsight I didn’t plan enough or save enough!
A beautiful day in West Papua
Where did you live during your Gap Year?
Tina: Firstly I went to West Papua for 7 weeks to work at an international school. I had had an invitation from a friend there to come and help out, and decided to do it! Thankfully there was even space for me to stay in an apartment with another teacher. The day after I arrived the internet went down and wasn’t restored for 3 weeks! No internet, no TV and little to do other than read. It was bliss! I met so many interesting people and experienced life in a semi-third world place. I also had time for lot’s of soul-searching and contemplation.
Above: West Papua.
After my time in Papua I returned to Australia for ten days and then flew out on a one-way ticket to Italy! I have dual Italian/Australian citizenship which made things easier.
One of my dreams is to write so I had booked myself into a writing retreat called The Art of Writing with an Australian writer, Lisa Clifford who has lived in Italy for almost 30 years. It was a 5 day course in Florence, where we were taught by successful writers and participated in many practical tasks. Again I met many interesting people from all corners of the globe.
Another thing I did in Florence was a month long TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). I loved that I stayed in a normal apartment with a kitchen and could live like a local. I used to go to the markets and was able to buy fresh Porcini (mushrooms), vegetables, bread and artisan cheese! I ate some amazing food! It was summer and after my lessons I would go downstairs at 10.30pm and buy a gelato. I would sit on the steps and just hang out. There were locals and tourists all around me, even that late at night. It was so vibrant!
In the 2 months in Italy I slept in 5 different beds in 5 different locations! During the TESOL course I shared an apartment with an 18 year old American girl. I also stayed in a variety of accommodations with a good friend who joined me for 2 weeks in Italy. Once I came back to Australia I stayed in a few places like my parents, a house-sit, with my mother in-law and then with another teacher when I first got the new job. Lots of different beds in 12 months!
Two photos from Florence (Le Grazie on left).
How did you finance your Gap Year?
Tina : I had paid long service leave from my job and I stretched it out to last 6 months. Selling the house meant I had no financial obligations while I was away.
What did you do with your stuff while you were away?
Tina: Before I packed I read Marie Kondo’s ‘The life-changing magic of tidying up’. I then got brutally ruthless and purged all the unnecessary stuff (I gave away and sold stuff). The main cull was clothes and books. I put everything else in boxes in storage. This was extremely cathartic. Now that I am back, my house is filled with only things that I love!
Did anything turn out differently than you expected?
Tina: I believe God was directing my path while I was away. I met so many people who were in the “right place at the right time”! So many details just fell into place!
However what turned out differently to my expectations was how long I stayed in Italy. My dream had been to live in Italy for a few years – to teach English and write. I was offered work and maybe could have stayed but I had started to feel a bit overwhelmed by my aloneness. Then my Dad (in Australia) got quite sick and nearly died so I returned to Australia and stayed with my parents for the 3 months that it took for my Dad to recover.
I then ironically landed a dream job in Australia, and so I moved to a small seaside town for this job. I moved into my rental here in this town on the 1st of April, 2019 – which is exactly a year after I left! I had spent an incredible year living out of a suitcase but when I unpacked that suitcase I really was ready to nest again.
I had really wanted the “plan” to be Italy but it turned out to be this small town in Australia where I am now living! Which I love!
There is a part of me that feels like I missed my window of opportunity to live in Italy but ironically the things I wanted – community, freedom and creativity -I have found in this town. I also have meaningful stress-free work that just landed in my lap (God). I know that God has me in the right place in this season of life.
The beautiful views and architecture in Florence.
Is there anything you would do differently next time?
Tina: When I move to Italy (next time) I will spend more time finding the right location to stay. I also underestimated how much it would cost and the exchange rate. I will save more money and I will also leave with less loose ends.
How has your Gap Year impacted you and changed how you see life now?
I was able to define what is important. It’s ironic that the busyness of life can be the cause of us losing sight of what’s really important. I was also able to distil what I needed/wanted in life.
After zero stress and not working for a whole year I am now am so guarded about who, how and what I spend my time. I am so much more intentional about my “why.” I do not want to have work consume my life again.
I discovered the deep inner core of myself: in my case it is that I need community. My aloneness was magnified in Italy. I realised how much I wanted to share life with others.
I also realised travel is my greatest joy and it is a part of my future plans.
Additionally I realised that I have a deep need to be creative – to write. This is a very clear focus now.
What was the best part about your Gap Year?
Tina: I was able to spend a whole year with no stress or responsibility. The year was actually a GIFT. I see this more with hind-sight afterwards.
I actually had time. I had time to read write and reflect. I had time to talk to God.
I had time to make decisions for my life based on the things God showed me and not based on my emotions, circumstances, or fears.
I also had time to listen to people because I wasn’t rushing. I met so many people and I would ask them “tell me about yourself”. It’s amazing what people told me because I had time to listen. Especially in Papua I met the most interesting and incredible people.
Street life and market life in West Papua.
Thankyou Tina for sharing your thoughts and experiences of taking a Gap Year. To be honest, it has affected me quite a bit writing this article and I am feeling a yearning for some time out like this.
Readers – I hope you have been inspired! Please comment and if you have had a Gap Year tell us about it!
Coming up soon: Gap Year part 2 about a couple who are on a Gap Year right now in New Zealand!