Opinion Madonna King: What if you had the opportunity to take an adult gap year?

Madonna King: What if you had the opportunity to take an adult gap year?

madonna king gap year
What would you do if you had a year off?
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What about if you, today, had the opportunity to take a gap year?

Not the tradition sabbatical year after school or university, but a year where you got to do what you truly wanted?

At 40. Or 60. Or 70. How would you spend it?

With our children now entrenched in senior school, and off to university in the next couple of years, my husband is determined to have one.

And it looks like I might be going along for the ride.

But what do you do?

In the old days, before COVID-19 became a wrecking ball on loop in most of our lives, the dream would be easy. A plane, and depending on budget, a trip overseas.

New York would top the list, with daily bike rides around Central Park, followed by Rome and pasta, Paris and riesling, Amsterdam and goodness knows what, and perhaps even Spain.

All up, it would be an extra five kilograms, and worth every cent.

But with the complexities around travel, and whether we’d even be allowed back into the country, what else might be on offer?

gap year
What would you choose to do if you had a year’s sabbatical to spend in Australia? Photo: Getty

Italian exchange students we’ve hosted tell of the yearning, at least in Italian high schools, to become an Aussie surfer for a year, or to round up cattle in the outback.

Both are probably age-appropriate activities, and in my case, that makes them inappropriate.

But staying on a property, in the middle of woop-woop, and seeing the bright red sun set over the western horizon has to garner votes.

Or if it’s the beach, seeing it rise by lighting up the sky over the nation’s easternmost city of Byron Bay would be an equal match.

A check of hotels in western Queensland and the Northern Territory would suggest the grey nomads might be a step ahead of the rest of us when it comes to the sun setting, with few rooms vacant at any inn.

And Byron Bay, now caught up as an ongoing COVID-19 exposure site, mutes that as an immediate gap-year option too.

The gap year has been a rite of passage for many school leavers, contemplating years of study ahead; exchanges run by community organisations, language swaps between countries, and the chance to grab a low-paying job in different places a huge drawcard.

That stopped last year, and those who run gap-year exchanges are struggling with how to ‘reinvent’ the year for the nation’s young.

Enterprising schools and groups are considering offering a post-school break in another Australian city, where school leavers would only speak a particular language, or would gain experience working for a charity, or on the land.

It’s a superb idea, because it simply ‘disrupts’ how we define the traditional definition of a gap year, in the same way Ubers have disrupted taxis, Airbnbs have disrupted the motel industry and COVID-19 has disrupted school learning.

Perhaps this allows the gap year to be targeted at a broader cohort of those long past contemplating post-school or university life.

My husband has joined a band, in the hope of finding fame and fortune on stage. That’s unlikely, and the option of being a groupie doesn’t quite fit my DNA.

But imagine if you could spend a year, in Australia, doing 12 different things, for a month. What would they be?

Volunteering in a detention centre in Perth. Working alongside COVID-19 tracers in Sydney. Learning to drive a truck in the Northern Territory. Swimming 15 kilometres, in a shark-protected cage off the Gold Coast. Eating at 10 different French restaurants across the nation. Finding the time for pilates, every day. Learning to cook South East Asian cuisine. Writing a book (OK, that’s going to take more than a month, but a gap year could become a gap two-year …).

Start a TikTok account for seniors. Bingeing on Netflix. Working your way through UberEats. A return to learning Italian. Driving for hours, without the high anxiety of having an L-plater at the wheel. At this moment, that latter suggestions tops my list.

For others it might be gardening or needlework; both of which have been given a massive boost in interest during lockdown.

Or getting a pilot’s licence. Or photographing dawn in every Australian city with a population over 200,000.

The thing about remaking a gap year is throwing away tradition. When we do it. How we do it. What we do with it.

And with COVID-19 changing so much else about our lives, why not the traditional gap year?

We might even meet up with our post-school children, having the same experience.