Despite the fact that a gap year is still thought of as a big waste of time in Singapore, more and more people are taking their time to graduate, and delaying their entry into university or the workforce.
Sometimes it’s deliberate, like the young people in this Straits Times article taking the year off to explore their passion in theatre. Other times it's a spontaneous decision to go abroad to get as far away from your parents as possible.
Whether it's planned or not, if your parents aren’t going to give you too much grief about “wasting your time”, here are some tips on increasing your employability by going overseas during a gap year (so you can demonstrate at your first job interview that you did more than just party in your time away.)
Want to prove to future employers that you're not only comfortable in different cultures, but have also polished up on your leadership skills? Volunteering abroad can help you do this.
If you have the time to volunteer for several months overseas, you will find lots of opportunities, especially in the neighbouring countries. Most of the charities will take on a full-time volunteer, but you may have to speak to someone in-charge directly instead of going through the regular channels, which are for people who volunteer on a part-time or ad hoc basis.
Some stints will require you to fork out a bit of money for food and accommodation, while others will see to it that your basic living expenses are covered. It’s a good idea to do your research and speak to the Singapore branch of the charity organization you are keen on exploring to get an idea of their mission, and what role you may be playing in it.
As is the case when job hunting, a successful volunteering experience depends a lot on finding an organisation and a role that suits you and your lifestyle. What ever it is, doing volunteer work will help you grow personally and gives you the chance to make a difference in people's (or animals') lives.
2. Teach English
Teaching English as a foreign language abroad can be a fun, rewarding and profitable way to spend a few months immersing yourself in a new culture, while also gaining you some experience before you settle into a long term career or go on to higher education. Also not forgetting that this is a qualification that you will take with you for the rest of your life, and can potentially make your resume stand out.
If you think this is something you might be interested in, then you need to commit to an internationally respected, high quality TEFL course. The two most recognised courses are CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) awarded by Cambridge University, and TESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) awarded by Trinity College London.
Many people assume that with the certification, they will be working in small local schools with small children running around barefeet à la Slumdog Millionaire. Of course, this is an option for those that want to take that route - but there are other options too. You can choose to work in a city college, or language centre where corporate businesses send their employees to learn English.
Take your time to do the research and find the right course for you. The duration of the courses, prices and which country to ultimately teach in all differ, and you should choose the one that best fits.
3. Learn a new skill
University isn’t the only place you get to learn stuff, and if you wait until you have a full-time job in Singapore to pick up a new skill, you can forget about finding as much time and energy as you have now to pursue whatever you're interested in.
Taking a year out to beef up your competence overseas is a very legitimate reason to delay your studies. For instance, if you’re thinking of applying for an internship in a Japanese company but haven’t achieved the requisite level in Japanese yet; taking a few months out to study the language intensively before applying might make you a little slower than your peers at the start, but will pave the way for some huge life changes later on.
In today's world where businesses are no longer just collaborating with people locally, being able to communicate in more than one language will set you above the rest. It can be scary, but picking up a new language abroad will force you to absorb it better through immersion (the struggle of communicating with the cashier at a Japanese 7-11 will help your katakana improve tenfolds, trust me). It will also show potential employers that you're independent and adaptable.
Or if you have a hobby that you’re obsessed about, you might want to take a year off to get better at it. Whether you’re headed to Thailand for Muay Thai training, or India for yoga instructor training, taking a month or two off to do it might be the way to go.
So don’t think of it as a waste of time. If it’s something you have been thinking of doing for a long time and you have the means to do it, go for it.
4. Travel & Blog
If your sole purpose of taking a gap year is purely to travel to as many countries as possible, as cheaply as possible, and to have as much fun as possible; then do it. Hey, no judging. But how about writing about your travel experiences, not only as a way to preserve those memories but also as a way to polish up your writing skills.
Blogging is a great way to show your expertise in a niche, as well as to build a portfolio. By starting a blog, you can use it to get freelance work. Working for yourself on a side-project isn't easy, but it shows dedication to something and helps you build online relationships with people who could, one day, be recommending you for a new job.
Running a travel blog requires more than just writing too. You will also be learning how to design your own website, learn basic coding, master social media promotion, become a better photographer, and become your own PR person too if your articles go viral.
Who knows? If writing is something that you're interested in and would want to pursue more of in future, starting a blog could lead you down the road of freelancing full-time.