As we turned into the new year, thoughts about the future felt pretty inescapable. The chats I had at family gatherings almost always included the classic “So what’s next?” question, and I started to wonder if people thought I didn’t know about my own graduation this July.
Travelling became a big part of my identity after my year abroad, and 2023 confirmed that it’s something I will continue to do throughout my life. To experience the world, meeting new people and creating new memories on the way, is undeniably thrilling. But similarly, as I’m sure many finalists will be feeling right now, the words “gap year” instil just as much fear as they do excitement.
For most of us at university, there has always been a next step. You pass your exams and move on to the next stage of studies. But what now? What about when we haven’t got a grad scheme? Or a job? Or any idea what we want to do in the future? Without the security of academia, life can seem daunting. It can feel like a step backwards, returning to your childhood home after creating an identity entirely independently. I know that over the past Christmas, my box bedroom felt particularly small.
But this move back home doesn’t have to be a regression. Instead, it’s an opportunity to rest and recharge after some of the craziest years of our life. I think it can be easy to think that your twenties end when university does, when actually, they have only just begun. And they can be whatever we want them to be! So taking a few months out to think about what you want to do with the next decade is simply a drop in the ocean.
Many of us are looking to travel, to scratch that itch of adventure, but that too comes with its own challenges. Whether going solo or with friends, it’s a big difference to life in Durham. There is no consistency when backpacking, and you often ask yourself if you made the right choices. Did you visit the right city? Do the right activities? The answer is almost always yes, even if in the moment you aren’t feeling so optimistic. Travelling always has its ups and downs, and don’t feel pressure to always be enjoying it. You’re allowed to have down days whilst living out your best gap year – that’s life.
I know a fear I have about going away is loneliness, as though the people I love are going to disappear as soon as I mount that final train home. But in the days of technology, where a phone call can happen in seconds, the chances of that happening are basically zero. Your friends aren’t going anywhere after university – you have made too many memoires and shared too many secrets for that to happen! So love them whilst you live with them, but be excited for the next decade with them too.
Plus, you will meet some incredible people on your travels, and speaking to these people will lead to some serious self-development. Durham can sometimes feel like a bubble, and exploring a world outside of that is going to be an eye-opening experience. Whilst it is easy to get in your own head about it, anxiety is an irrational emotion, and you have to transform those nerves into excitement (easier said than done, I know). You have no idea what will happen in the next few years, and isn’t that incredible? So much more love and laughter, and so many more memories.
So throw around the words “gap year”, take a rest after graduation and feel the buzz of post-uni life. This is the first time you have nothing to do – so do something you love.
Featured image by: Amy Gaffney