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Navigating my daughter's GAP year

Navigating my daughter's GAP year

As I write this it is almost exactly a year since my daughter, Olivia, and her friends left St Marys, the end of their school days brought to a sudden and somewhat unceremonious end by Covid and the first lockdown.   Gradually as spring turned to summer almost every one of their carefully made plans to mark the start of their adult lives fell like nine pins and as the autumn beckoned each had to decide whether to go straight to university or take a GAP year. Most decided to go off to university, Olivia, who had always planned a GAP, decided to stick with it and attempt to cobble together a productive year.

When the idea of taking a GAP year was first mooted we gave it our full support providing she understood and accepted that whatever she decided to do would be funded entirely by her through her own earnings.

That our only ‘contribution’ would be board and lodging, and provision of her car because we live in the country. She was to be entirely responsible for her petrol and car parking, lunch and day-to-day expenses as well as her travels. As a guide we suggested that during the course of the year she should attempt to Earn, Learn and Volunteer and that she ought to expect to earn for at least six months. In short we felt strongly that for her to get the most of a GAP year she should not see it as a long holiday but as an opportunity to work, widen her experiences, learn something and start to build a CV.

Finding work in lockdown was tricky to say the least but knowing that without it she would be stuck at home bored with her parents all year was a pretty decent incentive to find it, so, come the end of her studies she determined to find paid work. Many, many rejections later, often because she was too young and had no experience she got a job at KWS in Thriplow, a seed development company. She started work 3 days after her 18th birthday. The work was hard, outside in all weathers or in hot greenhouses, the hours were long. But she stuck at it until her contract ended at the end of October by which time she had sorted herself out at John Lewis as a Christmas temp. When that came to an end at Christmas she had enough money saved to go off to Switzerland to train to be a ski instructor, and there she remains. She will return in April and start work again at either kWS or John Lewis both of whom have asked her to return.

Along the way Covid has put an unwelcome spanner in the works many times, and she has had to deal with disappointment and change direction.

Most notably Operation Raleigh cancelled their expeditions so the volunteering part of her plans has fallen by the wayside at the moment. But, all in all, a year in, with six months to go I feel as a parent that Olivia has had some really worthwhile experiences, and that they have helped turn her from a school girl in to a young woman with purpose and ambition.There is no doubt in my mind she will be better equipped to make the most of her university years because she has had a year out in the adult world and experienced full time work for a prolonged period, she has learned that work is important and a job to be valued, that it is not OK to turn up late or hungover, that it’s important to do everything asked willingly and with a smile, that leaving a job with the door ajar in case you want to return is a good plan. And her time in Switzerland with all the attendant Covid fiddle factors has taught her to be independent, organised and to live cheek by jowl with a group of strangers.

In short, I think guided carefully and with firm ground rules a GAP year can be a really productive use of a young person’s time, and is really worthy of parental support.

Caroline D.

Current and former parent