Gap Years: A Sense of Purpose

College sweatshirts. Graduation caps. With a long-awaited for diploma and handshake from Dr. Fahrney, and SAS’s class of 2017 will be on their way… to where? University is a common answer — but what about the students taking a gap year? What is a gap year? Gap years originated in the UK in the 1970’s, where there’s a seven to eight month gap between the start of university and final exams. Students didn’t know how to fill their time, so adults started to create travel programs to allow for an international experience before matriculation – and thus the now-familiar term, “gap year,” was born.

According to the American Gap Association (not the clothing brand, but the nonprofit that researches and provides information about gap years), the shared purpose of a gap year (whether it’s service abroad, internships, or world-travel) is “increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultures, and experimenting with possible future careers.” How does this gap year’s “purpose” hold true for SAS seniors? And what are the varying opinions of the senior class on gap years?

Gabriella Zhao at United Singapore’s first event in spring 2016. Photo courtesy of Gabriella Zhao.

For senior Gabriella Zhao, a gap year is a chance for her to further her work with United Singapore, an organization that she started as a junior. United Singapore’s goals are to encourage integration between expat and local communities through youth outreach programs, and during her gap, Zhao plans to “make sure that United Singapore as a registered society is sustainable” without her leadership by employing a “self-renewable executive team.” Furthermore, she plans to expand United Singapore’s goals of integrating local and expatriate students to other bustling cities, specifically, Beijing and Tokyo. Zhao plans to have a specific purpose for her time – it’s certainly not an example of the “fluffy” travel or surface-level service gap years can be associated with. In other words, Zhao’s gap year goals seem to fulfil every one of the American Gap Association’s three purposes: self-awareness (increased), cultures (explored) and future careers (experimented with).

United Singapore’s first “integration” event was a “Tour de Singapore” — a fun-filled day of biking in the Marina Bay Sands area. Photo courtesy of Gabriella Zhao.

Senior Cindy Qiu agrees with Zhao and Velasco, in that a gap year has to be purposeful. In her words, “a gap year takes someone really diligent” if it’s to be done “successfully.” Although she is choosing not to take a gap year, Qiu states that having a “specific project or goal” to work towards is a great reason to take a year off. As to why a majority of seniors opt to continue straight into college, Qiu suggests that the environment at SAS and in Singapore may be an influence. “As urban kids, we are currently faced with this feeling of haste in our lives,” she stated. “[Being] faster means you’re smarter” and once you graduate from college, “quickly go to grad schools. Then get a job as soon as you can! Then you’re successful.” The idea of “slowing down” to take a gap year seems to go against the “formula to success that [SAS students] collectively believe in.”

Senior Lucia Garcia Velasco also has specific plans for her gap year experience. In a brief interview, Velasco said “I would definitely gain as much job experience as I can” and “to be working in any job that can offer me computer science experience,” as it’s the major she’s thinking of pursuing in university. As for other plans, she “would love to go to Spain for a couple months and immerse [herself” in the culture and language before returning to her studies. Velasco, like Zhao, hopes to grow and find out more about herself and believes a gap year is “something people should consider” more often.

Senior Lucia Velasco is gaining work and cultural experience during her gap year. Photo courtesy of Lucia Velasco.

For other seniors, however, there are instances of “forced” gap years. For some, the two-year national service requirement of all male PR’s or citizens over the age of 18 will delay college applications and enrollment for some seniors. For others, applying to Asian universities creates a gap year-like timeframe. Senior Hiroto Kozue is applying to Japanese universities after taking the Japanese entrance exams this summer to be enrolled in April 2018. According to Kozue, his parents believed he “should be able to speak and work in Japanese” and so have told him to enroll in the “Japanese program” in Japan, where all university classes are taught in Japanese. Essentially, it’s an enforced gap year. Kozue won’t be engaged in work or travel abroad but will be studying for entrance exams and applying to university. If it were up to him, he would rather “be the same as everyone else” and opt not to take a gap year.

While these are only a few examples of the perspectives among the SAS senior class, the idea of a gap year does seem anathema to the fast-paced and rigorous curriculum presented on campus. Nevertheless, taking a year off to study, intern, work, or simply travel the world could be a valuable use of time — as long as it has a sense of purpose.

Author: Zoe Ong

Zoe Ong is a senior and first-year reporter for The Eye. Originally from Irvine, California, this is her ninth year at SAS. She enjoys listening to different kinds of music (especially jazz), exploring local restaurants, and always saves room for dessert. Her hobbies include playing trombone, reading short stories and answering emails sent to

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