Taking a break after college to learn new skills is becoming popular in India
It’s completely okay to finish college and still not know what to do next. In fact, if you look at the number of people who’ve changed careers after two or three years of doing something, you’ll realise it’s far more common than you think. Taking a year off after college to discover yourself isn’t very common in India yet, but it’s something you should definitely consider, if you can afford to not work for a year or so.
Why take a gap year?
Taking a gap year has many advantages — it gives you time to build new skills, take a break from academics and apply to foreign universities if that’s what you’re looking to do. It also provides you with the scope to do part-time jobs or internships to both get a real-world experience and also sift through professions to see if the nitty-gritty actually appeal to you. You can also use this time to travel, discover your own hometown, read more and be more culturally aware. If you’re socially conscious, you can volunteer at NGOs and get an idea of how the non-profit sector works, while giving back to society in your own way. Plus, gap years are slowly getting popular, so it won’t require a massive explanation when you are finally looking for a full-time opportunity.
What are the biggest drawbacks?
First, and most important, this is expensive. Not everyone can afford to take a year off. Most volunteering programmes and even internships are unpaid. The few places that provide stipends don’t recruit lots of people and, in any case, the stipends are adequate but not ideal especially if you have families to support. For some people, the break makes it difficult to get back to a purely academic life. You also have to be prepared to handle the constant pressure from family and friends, many of whom will not support you or understand what you’re doing. It might even be difficult to see your peers ticking off their goals, achieving milestones or simply earning much more than you.
A lot of people tend to take up volunteering opportunities in their gap years. It’s so different from what we, as students, have been used to that the novelty of it appeals to people. It helps to get a completely different worldview and it helps even more that foreign universities often have essays asking you to describe your contribution to your community. Many volunteering programmes allow you to travel and explore a different part of the country, meet new people and engage with different cultures.
How do you find places to volunteer at?
Your city will definitely have multiple NGOs that you can look up. Most would be happy to have someone helping out part-time or full-time, especially if you’re not looking for a stipend. Try to find an NGO or a volunteering programme for a cause you feel passionate about. Love animals? Find the closest animal shelter to your house and spend a few hours every day. If nothing else, it’ll help to improve your mood. You can also work from home with organisations like Stray Relief and Animal Welfare (Straw). Programmes like these are constantly looking for people to handle their social media or be a part of their communications team.
My stint at Teach for India
After I graduated from Delhi University, I spent two years doing the Teach for India (TFI) fellowship. This involved teaching 40 nine-year-old underprivileged children in a government school in Mumbai. My reasons for applying to TFI were simple: I wanted to do something different. It would also buy me time to figure out what I wanted to do next, while still earning a basic stipend. If I had any hope that this would be an easy gap year, that fizzled out within my first week in the job. It was neither easy nor frivolous. It was challenging and demanding yet satisfying.
My friend finished her master’s and then spent a year in a village in Jharkhand working with a school run by the Yuwa India Trust. This is a good option if you want to get away from home and from your everyday life and understand social problems in rural India. The Gandhi Fellowship also allows you to work in schools across rural Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.
A fresh perspective
Many of my colleagues at TFI, people who had studied engineering and media and completed their MBAs, stayed on after the fellowship. They worked in staff roles — curriculum development, fundraising, fellowship selection. Many moved on to different NGOs within the education sector — roles that involved working on education policies, communication strategies and administration. Several applied to postgraduate programmes in education and child psychology. It’s like the fellowship gave them a whole new perspective and purpose.
So, do extensive research before you take a gap year, find places you can volunteer or work at, see how you can club your different interests and allow yourself to relax so you can get back to the grind once your year is up.
Shreemayee Das is a writer, stand-up comedian and co-founder of The Grin Revolution. She has a degree in English Literature