Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
NIEMAN, Marietha. The perception of higher education students of the influence of their gap year experiences on their personal development. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.1, pp. 119-131. ISSN 0041-4751.
This article reports on a number of higher education students' perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of taking a gap year, and the effect of a gap year on their personal development. A gap year can be described as taking "time out" during any stage of one's life in order to undertake any of a number of activities. It may involve various combinations of paid and voluntary work locally or overseas, but in some instances a gap year is spent travelling, doing an adventure course or a course in self-development. Sometimes young people devote a gap year to religious studies or activities. A gap year is usually taken before entering a higher education institution, between college/university and starting a career, or even before making a career change. It may last from three months to a year, but is often extended to two years and in some instances even continue for longer periods. This article deals only with the gap year students take immediately after their final school year, before entering a higher education institution. Matriculants mainly decide to take a gap year because they are uncertain about whether (and what) they want to study, want to earn money or simply want to take a break from studying. In this research project a qualitative approach was followed. To gather data, the researcher conducted 25 individual, semi-structured interviews with higher education students who had taken a gap year before entering university. The questions that were asked dealt inter alia with the reason why they took a gap year; what they did during their gap year; how the gap year influenced their social and academic adjustment at university; what life skills they acquired during their gap year; what they regard as the advantages and disadvantages of a gap year; what problems or challenges they experienced; and what the gap year meant for their personal development. Follow-up questions were asked when necessary. The findings identified a range of benefits enjoyed by students as the result of a gap year. These benefi ts can be divided into the following three categories: (1) They experience personal growth and develop a number of life skills during a gap year. This category can be subdivided into the following subcategories: growing up quickly; acquiring greater independence, responsibility and self-confidence; gaining life and work experience, self-knowledge and a better perspective on the future; learning to persevere, to work with money, to treat freedom with responsibility; and learning how to handle difficult situations in everyday life and in the workplace.(2) Their interpersonal and communication skills improve. These include making new acquaintances; improving interpersonal relationship and communication skills; and learning how to handle conflict in the workplace. (3) They acquire a broader world-view and a better perspective on life. Because they are confronted with the realities of life they gain a more objective perspective on life and learn to understand other cultures better. The investigation also revealed a number of disadvantages of a gap year. Gap year students have fallen behind their peer group and will start earning money at a later age. It takes time to adjust to academic studies after a year of non-academic activities. Many young people do not utilise their gap year to gain valuable experience and struggle to fi nd their feet afterwards. Although there has been an increase in the gap-year phenomenon over the past decade, very little scientific research has previously been done on South African students' experiences of a gap year.
Keywords : gap year; higher education students; personal development; life skills; interpersonal skills; communication skills; world-view; gap year advantages; gap year disadvantages.