It started, as all great things do: with a conversation.
I was at the Brighton boardwalk with a friend of mine. We’d met up to walk our dogs. Or, at least, that was the excuse we used. We both liked to catch-up with the latest events in each other’s lives and walking our dogs just happened to kill two birds with one stone.
It was during our end-of-year holidays; that awkward, five-month gap between our first and second years as university students. We were nervous. It wouldn’t be long before we were back into the methodical system that was education.
It was something we both dreaded and anticipated. We both enjoyed our selected degrees, in our own ways, but both of us had jumped from high school to university without stopping to take a figurative breather.
This became the topic we dwelled on.
Were we missing out on something, something that could only be experienced through travel and exploration? Was this really the way to live our lives, jumping from one expectation to the next? And if not, were we willing to wait another two years before experiencing a relative “freedom”?
At the end of it, my friend sighed about how she longed for an overseas vacation.
I agreed with her.
I wanted to be independent, to see the wonders of the world, to break away from the educational spiel I had married myself into. And I wanted to do it soon – not wait until my degree was hanging on my wall.
I felt annoyed at the situation I was in and grumbled, “I could seriously take a gap year, next year.”
“Yeah, me too,” my friend said, her tone determined.
That didn’t really surprise me.
At the time of our conversation, my friend already had numerous destinations under her belt. She’d done single journeys to several countries and also completed an around-the-world-trip with her mother during high school. If she had one purpose in life, it was to travel.
However, what did surprise me was her seriousness.
We had degrees. Educations. We couldn’t both think it was a good idea to go gallivanting off around the world… could we? I expected her to laugh it off; to be the so-called voice of reason. But now… she had agreed.
I stared at her, startled. “Like, seriously, seriously?” I said, before I added, as an afterthought: “Because we could totally do it.”
And we could. We had the jobs to produce the funds and the parents to encourage our endeavours. My friend seemed to realise this, too.
“Oh my god, we could, couldn’t we?” she said, delighted.
“Is this actually happening?” I asked. I was hoping it would, though it seemed unlikely. I couldn’t picture us deferring our degrees for a year to travel the world. It felt illegal; like we’d be cheating the system.
“Yeah,” said my friend, “let’s do it!”
Over the next few months, we began to discuss and plan our endeavour. We decided we’d leave in January of 2016. Our parents were privy to our decision, but we didn’t want to tell anyone else until we were 100% certain of our plans.
We switched between ideas – should we study abroad, or go on a working holiday? – but the decision was made for us. The cut-off dates for studying abroad in January, 2016, had already passed.
We would have to work.
It wasn’t a difficult thing to accept; most people who undertook a gap year worked in order to maintain their costs. But as time went past, I began to doubt the decision.
The first reason for this was because I didn’t want to just drop my studies in the field of journalism. What if I became unmotivated to complete my degree? What if I forgot all of the relevant information? Did I really want to add another year to my graduation date?
The second reason was because I, well, wanted to study abroad. It was always a dream of mine – but something I’d never pursued because I’d never thought I would have the funds to support. And now I did. Studying abroad would be lot more beneficial for my resume than working abroad could ever be (unless I ended up in some crazy, high profile job).
The third reason was more financial. We would be young adults in an overseas country with no degree between us. Finding a suitable and entertaining job that didn’t squander us of a decent wage would be difficult. To add to that, neither of us found the job agencies trustworthy – you know, the ones who you pay to find you an overseas job. We’d both heard stories. It cut down our resources to just ourselves. Could we keep ourselves financially stable? I wasn’t sure.
The fourth reason was because of the seasons. In January, when we planned to go, we’d be going from the middle of an Australian summer to the middle of a European winter. I can only just tolerate an Australian winter, and my parents (one English, the other a seasoned traveller) both promised me winter in England would be hell in comparison. I feared the sudden culture shock of jumping from one extreme to the other would make me hate being overseas.
And the final reason was because my friend had become more and more hesitant about the trip.
She confessed one day that she was uncertain if the degree she was studying was for her. She apologized and said she wanted to resolve her life before committing to the gap year. By this point, I was emotionally invested. I told her I respected any decision she made, but at the end of the day, I was still going, and I’d love if she came with me. We hugged. And later, I cried.
We’d started this together, but now I had to assume I was doing this alone.
I decided to research every possible pathway available to me. I found I was more interested in pathways that involved continuing my education overseas, so, after much deliberation (and a long conversation with my mum), I decided to pursue those, until one day I found the perfect pathway.
I would apply for the semester two (June – November) 2016 study abroad period through my university, the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). I would complete semester one of my third year journalism studies at QUT in Australia. Then, I would travel overseas on my British passport to the University of Leeds, where I would complete my last semester of university.
The benefits were extensive. I would graduate with my journalism degree in England; have plenty of time to explore other countries, cultures and traditions; be financially stable; gain a unique perspective on journalism; gain lifelong friends; and, develop lifelong skills.
It would be a six-month trip, starting (at the latest) in September. And. It. Would. Be. Perfect.
When the end of semester one of 2015 rolled around, I found myself on the phone to my friend. She had decided to defer semester two of her second-year studies to earn more money for our gap year, in January. I told her I’d considered taking a different route. I told her about my research, about my reasons for continuing my degree, about my plans. She listened. We debated.
In the end, she elected to resume her degree. She would see how she felt in six months about her degree and, from there, whether she would accompany me overseas. Another four months passed and I entered the study abroad program at QUT. From there, I was moved around (it sucked), until I was successfully nominated to Sheffield Hallam University – my original second preference.
Seven months passed. Then, came the moment I’d been waiting almost two years for: an acceptance letter from Sheffield Hallam University.