Friday, June 26, 2009

The gap year mentality - the disparity between Singaporeans and Britons

I was reading an AsiaOne article on Singaporean students taking a gap year before continuing their tertiary studies in the local universities. A couple years before, the notion of gap year is almost unheard of back home; mention 'gap year' and the image of a year long shopping expedition at a certain fashion outlet comes to mind.

I guess the concept of a 'gap year' is still foreign to Singaporeans as a rule of thumb. Many Singaporean parents who put the pursue of education (and subsequently of financial gains) as a priority would be horrified if their child would prefer to take a year off school and indulge in some seemingly meaningless pursuits. Doesn't help a bit that many of these activities would not yield any immediate gains.

Even if the parents are agreeable and financially able to support their children through their gap year, this might be feasible only for non-Singaporeans and females, as all Singaporean males will have to serve a mandatory two-year National Service regardless.

For most of the Europeans and Britons in particular, the taking of a gap year seems to be the rage. Companies have been set up just to cater to this trend; organizing activities and providing suitable frameworks and liaising with relevant societies across the globe. For many, it's a chance to escape from parental restrains back home and roam the world a bit and hopefully garner enough social experience to eventually fill up the CV.


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Someone I know took a year off to travel the length of Africa and brought back tales of cultural immersion with the local tribes, another worked with a humanitarian group in South East Asia, which benefited the local populace. These experiences could never be replicated in the confines of a classroom.

Hopefully, the taking of a gap year would eventually take off in Singapore. A fellow Singaporean lamented to me that she realised that she has not taken a break after attending school at the age of five. Since then, 17 years of school and subsequently 9 years of work follow. She is, however, determined that her child would get to go for a gap year in time to come.

Have you taken a gap year? If so, tell us about it. If not, why not? Cheers.

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9 comments:

SheR. said...

I never took a gap year.
But seriously in Singapore, we were rushed through school and most of us were still pretty lost as to what we really want to be when we are, let's say 30. I did find the passion of my life before 30 because of my strong will power but not all my mates are. In the end, they end up resenting my decision to pursue my passion and reminded me time and again that one has to think about our parents first.

Well.. I think all of us need a little time to find ourselves. And yes, a gap year will be good!

sixmats said...

I didn't take one (we don't technically have them in the States) but I think I would have been better off if I had taken one.

It would probably have given me perspective.

xiaocangshu said...

Girls get a 8 month break after A Levels and before the university... most people spend that time working.

C K said...

@SheR,
I understand what you are talking about. I think we have only ourselves to answer to at the end of the day. The gap year might just help us find out our passion earlier. :)

@sixmats,
Perhaps they should make it a compulsory thing, shouldn't they? We could all do with a little bit of perspective. Call me naive but there might be less social tension around.

@xiaocangshu,
So how did you spend your 8 months? :)

xiaocangshu said...

Did some teaching and volunteer work... learnt Japanese and guitar.

drcrab said...

Hey CK!
long time no chat.

I find that university students who come to uni after a 'useful' gap year tend to do much better in their studies. They either come to uni thinking 'ok I've had my time out, now it's time to knuckle down' or they think 'no I really don't want to study X, I'd rather study Y' and they do well (again because they've stood up to what they want as opposed to what their 'parents/peers' pressured them into doing.

They would have had a think about life, and realise that they are in fact very fortunate.

I have 3-4 students in this academic year who've just passed with First Class honours, all done gap years (1 in Africa doing missionary work, 2 mature students, 1 working elsewhere). I do think there is a positive correlation.

C K said...

@xiaocangshu,
I've got a friend who's currently in the Uni who is taking Japanese as the 'additional' module. With some Japanese language under your belt, you should be able to skip a module of two, no?

Tried my hands at guitar when I was a kid. Got told by the instructor that my stubby fingers wouldn't make the cut. @.@


@drcrab,
Hey, great to hear from you again!

I notice that the Universities over here do not exactly have an enforced quota of students for each faculty (correct me if I am wrong). Back home, the guys would usually head towards Engineering if they can't go into Medicine whereas Accountancy and Science is filled with gals. Not much choice I would say.

Guess G will be heading for his gap year. :)

Teck Hao said...

I guess I was "forced" to go into a gap year for 11 months upon the completion of my National Service (early November) as school starts in late September at London. Initially, I wanted to participate in Youth Expedition Project with National Youth Council. It's basically a long service learning project that includes a mission trip to neighbouring South-east Asian countries. However, due to scholarship commitments, I chose a 4-month internship with the company over the service learning project.

The idea of gap year would not be well-received in the society where kids grow up studying and study to work. People like me (having to spend 11-months "idling") will be considered as lacking a sense of direction in life - wasting time.

Take a quick look at how much effort the Government is putting in to promote work-life balance, you can tell that the bulk of our society compromise on personal life/experiences for a livelihood. The same story can be said for students - in general.

C K said...

@Dehao,
How did your internship turn out eventually?

I just find it a bit contradictory to promote "work-life" balance on one hand while banking on cheap labour on the other. In order for local populace to compete in a low cost labour market, something's got to give. More often than not, it's personal/family time.