Words by: Hannah Cohen Art by: Lillian Busby
When I boarded the plane with a one-way ticket to Heathrow, London burning a hole in my passport wallet, I wasn’t sure who I was. Freshly eighteen and wrapped in a shiny aura of optimism and innocence, the motivation for my gap year was to move to a country on the other side of the globe without knowing a soul and hopefully, find myself.
Little did I know that ripping myself out from my comfortable little community and jumping head first into the deep end with no idea how to swim wouldn’t lead me to said destination (myself), but rather throw me off course and hurl me onto the confusing, incredible and challenging journey that I’m still trekking through today.
On a superficial level my gap year includes the many elements that make a great story to brag about to friends back home. It consists of the wholesome, Instagram-worthy moments like picnics in front of the Eiffel tower, island hopping through Croatia, riding amongst a flurry of bicycles in Amsterdam, toga parties in Rome and buying last minute tickets to see a fabulous list of West End musicals. Then there’s the wildly messy stuff, like having baked beans on toast for dinner again because you went over budget, spending early hours of most Sunday mornings over the toilet bowl after copious amounts of alcohol consumption cursed with a hazy recollection of the night before, booking flights at ungodly hours and taking overnight buses in order to nab the cheapest prices, stumbling back to a dodgy hostel room from a London nightclub only to find a random man sleeping in your bed. Honestly, the list goes on but I will spare you some of the tragically filthy details. And then of course, you have the more sombre moments found in bouts of crippling homesickness and the struggles of trying to muster up a sense of perspective and positivity when enduring exhaustion, sickness and hard times at work, pining for the comfort
of friends and family at home.
But at the end of the day, all these experiences created an unforgettable whirlwind that swept me off what I thought were my firmly grounded feet. In a mess of exciting and reckless scenarios, I was led further and further astray from the me I’d once been firmly acquainted with. From someone who I thought was typically straight edged, I was bent into an entirely new shape that is ever-warping and changing to this day.
I saw myself saying yes to more things without hesitance. Whether it was staying out until I could see the amber sunrise on my nightly stumble back to my flat, or travelling six hours on a train to town to attend a party where I didn’t know any of the other guests, my gap year overseas allowed me to look at a plethora of opportunities and view them as a chance to test my limits. I almost completely lost who I thought I was in the most productive and beneficial way possible.
The old cliche rings true, you have to get lost in order to be found.
With each new experience, I‘d find a new and valuable puzzle piece to fit into the grand jigsaw I was becoming. I’d surprise myself in moments where I felt entirely unrecognisable. Other times, a relieving sense of familiarity washed over me when ‘pre gap year me’ would return to stand her ground, happy that she hadn’t completely disappeared and always showed up at the right times.
So throw away the compass, you won’t need it for your year abroad. While it will amplify the steadfast parts of yourself and tap into areas that are yet to be unlocked, know that on your gap year, you won’t find yourself. It will serve instead as a launch pad towards self discovery with a twist; there’s no final location. But don’t worry, this endless voyage is far more exciting than any Contiki tour you’ll ever take.