Things I Learned During My Gap Year

Things I Learned During My Gap Year
Matt Graham visiting the Sahara Desert in Morocco during his gap year in 2014.

After finishing high school, I decided to take a gap year and moved to Germany. I expected to have a fun time overseas – and I did. But I also learned a lot of unexpected life lessons along the way.

Travelling overseas – let alone moving to another country – is not easy. It takes courage and you’ll encounter some setbacks along the way. But it’s absolutely worth it!

As well as learning tangible new skills (such as mastering the German language, in my case), taking yourself outside of your comfort zone will force you to deal with unexpected situations. The new experiences you’ll have and the life lessons learned along the way will make you more resilient, and prepare you to more easily deal with challenging situations you may come across in the future.

After returning from my gap year, quite a few years ago now, I wrote a list of the key lessons I had learned during my travels and time living in Germany over the previous year. In no particular order, here’s what I wrote down back then…

Don’t worry about things you can’t control

While travelling overseas, it’s inevitable that things will occasionally go wrong. There’s no point worrying about things you can’t control, as that won’t solve anything. Instead, focus on things you can change.

Don't worry flowchart

Don’t take your privilege for granted

As Australians, we are very fortunate to have been born in a first-world country where we can afford to travel (when the government will let us leave, anyway). I met so many people around the world who genuinely could not afford to travel, or faced many more barriers to travel (e.g. burdensome visa requirements) than Australians would ever have to deal with. We should not take this privilege for granted.

Don’t judge other people’s broken English

Growing up as a white, native English speaker in Australia, I had never really experienced racism before living overseas. But while working in Germany, with German being my second language, there were times when I simply couldn’t understand a customer or they couldn’t understand me. Some customers were quite nasty towards me, and it was humiliating to have my accent or minor grammatical mistakes mocked when I was genuinely trying my best.

Sadly, these kinds of things – or far worse – are a part of daily life for many migrants and those who live in Australia but speak English as a second or third language. It’s not nice, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

Make an effort to learn another language

You’ll get so much more out of your travels by making an effort to learn the local language. People often respect that you’ve made an effort, even if you don’t speak the language fluently, and you’ll be able to communicate on more than just a superficial level.

There seems to be a selfish misconception among English speakers that English is the universal language, so there’s no need to learn any other language. But by only speaking English, you’re relying on the goodwill of everyone else to speak your language. And many don’t.

“Speak to somebody in a language they understand, and you’ll capture their attention. Speak to somebody in their own language, and you’ll capture their heart.”

Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone

By definition, leaving your comfort zone is hard. But as scary as it may be, it’s so totally worth it!

The best travel experiences are shared with others

Travelling solo has plenty of advantages, but the most memorable travel experiences are shared with other people. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to meet other travellers if you’re flying solo. So even if you’re alone, you’ll rarely be lonely!

You can achieve any goal you set your mind to

By the time I had finished school, I had saved up enough money to travel around the world for 4 months. There is no secret to this – I had set myself the goal when I was 14 years old, and worked hard for the next 4 years to save up for it.

When I later decided to move to Germany, most of my family and friends told me I was crazy, it was a silly idea and it would never happen. But I did what I had to do to make it happen and proved them all wrong. For most people, this seemed like an unrealistic fantasy – but there was never any reason I couldn’t have done it.

Have you returned from a gap year? What did you learn? Let us know in the comments!

Matt Graham

Matt Graham

Matt is the founder of Working Holidays for Aussies. Passionate about travel and always looking for great deals, he believes that gap years & working holidays are the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture and gain invaluable life experience. Originally from Australia, Matt has travelled to over 60 countries and has lived in New Zealand, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

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