Shortly after my 31st birthday I fled to another country on a gap year.
I had already completed one gap year, in between finishing school and starting university, when I was 19. I spent that year working in Israel as a volunteer on a kibbutz, working for Disney, and finally a month traveling in Japan. I needed that year; I knew I wasn’t ready to go to university yet, I wanted to experience new things and travel, before being stuck as a student for three years.
I quit my job
My second gap year was different, though. After I turned 30 my world seemed to crumble around me: a friend died from cancer; my romantic relationship ended; I’d reached the end of my tether at work and resigned, despite not having a new job to go to, and as a result I had to leave the apartment I’d been renting with friends and returned to my parents’ house, where I could lick my wounds and try to figure out what to do next.
I rejected all notions of having a career; I wanted to be free, I wanted… well, I didn’t really know what I wanted. All I knew was that I didn’t want to devote my life to, as I saw it, slavishly following some careerist ideal. I didn’t just want to gently steer off the career path, I wanted to rush headlong into the wild, where there were no signposts, no directions, no map and no rules.
This sounded fine, as ideals go, but what did I actually do? I thought about going back to teaching English as a foreign language, but I knew my heart was no longer in it. I ended up doing something that I had sworn I would never do: I went to an employment agency and registered as an office temp. The positive side of this was I could earn money while I figured out what to do next, and I could enjoy an easy, stress-free working life.
The downside, however, was that the work was so dull and lifeless that now I cannot remember a single detail, other than it entailed working 9-5 in some dreary office somewhere, on an anonymous business park or desolate industrial estate. This wasn’t quite what I had meant by steering off the career path: I had apparently pulled over into a service station instead of driving off into the sunset.
I can’t remember how I saw it, but somehow I heard about a BUNAC presentation taking place locally, at Oxford Brookes University, about how to get a 12 month visa to work in Canada. I went along, and decided that I would apply; luckily, I was just within the age bracket.
That’s how I found myself, in October 2005, sitting on a plane to Vancouver. I stayed in a youth hostel for a couple of weeks, and within that time I had already found a job; still as an office temp, but hey, I was in Canada and earning more than I would have in the UK! I quickly found more permanent accommodation, sharing a basement apartment a block away from a beach, in the Kitsilano area of the city. I had hit the ground running, and it felt great to have a created a new life for myself so quickly.
My motto at this time was “Just Be”. I didn’t have a bed in my room, just a mattress on the floor. I had hardly any possessions, only my camera, laptop and the clothes I had traveled with in my backpack. I had gone back to basics, stripped my life down to the bare essentials, and started afresh in a new city, in a new country.
Actually, I took that phrase “bare essentials” quite literally. I lived near a naturist beach, Wreck Beach, and went there pretty often when the weather was warm enough. There is nothing quite as freeing as getting naked on a beach. It was liberating. It was bliss. It was kinda hippy-ish. There were naked people playing guitars and naked people selling slices of watermelon. I loved it.
I set about exploring the city on my days off from work and even went speed dating in an attempt to meet potential partners, despite earlier experiences. As it turned out, I was looking for love in all the wrong places.
I flew home for Christmas, and met up with an American friend, who I had known when I lived in Japan for 3 years. After returning to Vancouver, and she to Ohio, we made plans to spend a long weekend together in New York in February.
By the time we met up again, in Ohio in March, we had become a couple. Suddenly here I was, living in Vancouver, having a relationship with a girl in Ohio. It wasn’t the most convenient of situations, but somehow we made it work; I visited her a couple of times, and in the summer she came to visit me in Vancouver. Towards the end of her week with me, I took her up a mountain and asked her to marry me.
She said yes.
8 thoughts on “Gap Year 2.0: how one year changed my life”
Somehow, being in a foreign country allows you to reinvent yourself. Perhaps being in familiar surroundings compels you to behave according to patterns you can’t escape; or maybe ‘home’ equals ‘comfort,’ and we just shut down while we’re there.
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I agree that living abroad does provide opportunity to reinvent yourself. I’m a firm believer in change!
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