Gap Years and the Singaporean Dream

Is it a good idea to delay the final stage of one’s education? Everi Yeo deep dives into the ins and outs of taking a gap year and what it means to Singapore’s youth.

Ms Chia (left) suppressed her dream to pursue fashion for years because her family thought the industry offered far too little stability. Photo courtesy of Ms Chia.

BY
Everi Yeo
Editorial Admin Manager
Hype Issue #54

Published on
December 30, 2021

Gap years had a very grand beginning: literally. They were originally given the title of the ‘Grand Tour’, as coined by travel writer Richard Lassels in 1670.

In the 17th century, a time before the start of globalisation, young and wealthy European men (and on rare occasions, women) began travelling through the continent of Europe to cultivate a sense of worldly learnedness.

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Painting by Carl Spitzweg of travellers on their Grand Tour. Photo taken from The Educated Traveller.

According to The Boar, the itineraries of such tours commonly included specific museums, performances and landmarks for cultural and artistic enrichment.

Nonetheless, the original gap year was largely inaccessible to common folk due to the sheer cost of the extensive overseas travel it entailed. Gap years have since evolved, expanding to include many other endeavours. Yet, one aspect about taking a gap year remains the same for Singapore’s youth: It remains out of reach.

“Many Singaporean parents prioritise stability, especially mine,” shares Ms Celestine Chia, 22, a first-year Fashion Media and Industries student at LASALLE College of the Arts. She took two gap years to explore the prospect of pursuing a career in fashion, a field that she remains passionate about to this day.

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Ms Chia (left) suppressed her dream to pursue fashion for years because her family thought the industry offered far too little stability. Photo courtesy of Ms Chia.

To Ms Chia’s parents, the most logical next stage after her graduation from polytechnic was to enter university immediately. “I had to assure them that I knew exactly what I was signing up for and that this decision would benefit me more,” she adds.

According to For Tomorrow, the stability provided by tried-and-tested paths is no longer as appealing to today’s young Singaporeans as it was to their parents. Instead, they yearn for the freedom to grow in their desired direction. Taking a gap year is just one of the many ways that this desire for self-actualisation manifests itself.

For older Singaporeans, doing what aligns with one’s passions was largely a luxury in their youth. However, young Singaporeans today have grown accustomed to looking beyond what’s traditional to satisfy their higher level needs of self-fulfilment.

Ms Chia’s gap year journey took her as far as New York, one of the world’s fashion capitals, for the highly selective NewYork.SG programme. There, she executed photoshoots and underwent mentorships from professionals in the industry.

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Ms Chia’s fashion photography. Photos courtesy of Ms Chia.

“In New York, despite their ‘hustle culture’, they are very open to sharing and helping others,” Ms Chia says. “In Singapore, we are all pressured to be first and have a very competitive culture.”

In New York, despite their ‘hustle culture’, they are very open to sharing and helping others. In Singapore, we are all pressured to be first and have a very competitive culture.

- Ms Celestine Chia, 22

First-year Fashion Media and Industries student at LASALLE

Safe to say, Ms Chia wouldn’t have it any other way. She has since learnt to see constraints as opportunities for creativity. “Throwing myself out there gave me exponential growth that I never imagined,” she expresses.

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Ms Chia says she would gladly “do it all over again”. Photo courtesy of Ms Chia.

Ms Shannon Tan, 22, a second-year Architecture student at the National University of Singapore, took a gap year to carefully think through what she wanted to do in university. “It felt like I was doing something wrong,” she recounts. “Especially in Singapore, where it seems to be a race to get to success.”

Her parents were initially disappointed with her decision as they felt taking a gap year would derail her future. “But I think they are pretty pleased with where I am now,” she says. “Eventually, I realised there was nothing wrong with following my own pace. Just because I wasn’t there yet doesn’t mean I’m never going to get there.”

Eventually, I realised there was nothing wrong with following my own pace. Just because I wasn’t there yet doesn’t mean I’m never going to get there.

- Ms Shannon Tan, 22

Second-year Architecture student at NUS

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Snapshots from Ms Tan’s gap year travels. Photos courtesy of Ms Tan.

During her gap year, Ms Tan travelled to various parts of Europe and Asia. She also fed her interest in art, trying her hand at figure drawing and oil painting.

“Formal education is not a be-all and end-all,” she concludes. “I need to let myself go through life and experience as many things as possible.”

Formal education is not a be-all and end-all. I need to let myself go through life and experience as many things as possible.

- Ms Shannon Tan, 22

Second-year Architecture student at NUS

gap-year-breather-rest

As Ms Tan overworked herself during her polytechnic years, her gap year served as a much-needed breather. Photo courtesy of Ms Tan.

For Amanda Chang, 20, a first-year Architecture student at the University of Bath in England, taking a gap year made her more confident in her choices and beliefs.

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Amanda in Bath, the city in England where she’s studying. Photo taken from Instagram.

“Having [so] much autonomy over my time made me feel quite lost at the start but adapting to it definitely helped in preparing me for university,” she shares.

Over the course of her gap year, Amanda interned as a photographer and videographer for local influencer Mongabong, learnt to play the drums, and started a YouTube channel as well as an Instagram book review page, among many other things.

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Amanda starring in a Mongabong video. Screenshot taken from YouTube.

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Some of the projects Amanda started in her gap year. Screenshots taken from YouTube and Instagram.

Nonetheless, it was still a struggle for Amanda to witness her peers move on with their academic lives. “[However], it taught me that moving on from school, [even] as my friends and I grow in our own areas, we are still going to be able to come together and celebrate each other’s successes,” she reflects.

Moving on from school, [even] as my friends and I grow in our own areas, we are still going to be able to come together and celebrate each other’s successes.

- Amanda Chang, 20

First-year Architecture student at the University of Bath

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