Gap Year 2.0: how one year changed my life

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.

Photo by Jessie Crettenden on


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.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


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.


Clean slate

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.


Bare Essentials

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.

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on


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.

Photo by James Wheeler on


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.

Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on

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.

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8 thoughts on “Gap Year 2.0: how one year changed my life

  1. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

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