I spent 18 months in Australia and New Zealand after completing my high school in Germany. I worked in a restaurant, on a farm, on a construction site, as a door-to-door sales person, and in a digital marketing agency. I was recently asked whether I regret to have taken a Gap Year as it would apparently slow down the career advancement. However, I am 100 percent confident to say that taking a Gap Year was the best decision I could have made after high school. Although I traveled regularly abroad before the Gap Year, the experience of traveling through faraway countries, meeting like-minded travelers, and constantly facing new situations simply cannot be compared to a normal two-week long holiday you experience in a resort. I learned valuable insights about life and gained a deeper sense of my own personality, while constantly growing along the way. Age does not make you a wise person, it is the accumulation of many experiences and this is what a Gap Year will provide you.
A Trip of a Life-Time
It would almost be impossible to write down all the exciting and sometimes even frightening moments and emotions I experienced during my Gap Year. However, I can exactly tell what personality traits I have developed during this time. In psychology, there is this on-going debate about the influence of nature versus nurture on one’s personality. It is about how strongly genes influence character compared to surroundings. Based on my experience, I have the impression that prolonged exposure to different surroundings can influence and even change personality traits. I strongly believe that my Gap Year was of paramount importance for my personal development and would not want to miss this important experience.
The longer I stayed abroad, the more independent I became. I learned to manage my finances, to cook healthy meals, to wash and iron my clothes, to make new friends, to organise trips, and how to find new work. Basically, I had to learn how to create a whole new life whenever I moved to a different place. As a result, I realised how easy it can be to adjust plans whenever the circumstances change. For example, my original plan was to go to Melbourne for half a year and then move to Vancouver for another half year to become an actor. Yes, you read it right. The original plan was to first improve my English language skills and then head over to one of the largest film production centres in North America. However, this never happened. Instead, I was captured by Australia and its vastness, vivid nature, and endless new opportunities to experience something new.
My journey started in 2010, where I stayed for a month in Melbourne near Fitztroy Street in the suburb St Kilda. There, I met Marcello Agresta who became my travel companion and one of my best friends. This way, I not only improved my English but also my Italian. The month in Melbourne passed quickly and I met many new people.
After having explored Melbourne, I flew to Sydney where I spend four months working in a restaurant. I also learned how to surf and learned to love it. Sometimes I still feel the oneness with the ocean that one can experience when riding the waves towards the beach. I loved the city and its summer vibe but my goal was not to stay there for too long. I wanted to save as much money as possible and then to travel through the classic East Coast route from Sydney to Cairns.
During my Gap Year, I had to talk to many different people and there were several times where I had to open up and communicate my thoughts and feelings to be understood.
The most open and communicative people I have met traveled a lot and met a countless number of people. It seemed that the more people you meet, the more open you become. You can almost only win through being open. For example, when I met the founder of Goodmapp, I was immediately interested in her startup and asked questions to learn more about her business. We had a mutual interest in our startups and exchanged contacts. At the end, that contact resulted into a client for Awaken&More. Be open and communicative, you never know what opportunities you might create.
Confidence and Courage
When I moved to Australia, I did not possess much work experience and thought that it would help to take the Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) training to receive the mandatory license for staff serving liquor. Not many backpackers took this training and so, it helped me to differentiate from other job seekers. I was hired on the first day I was looking for work and it greatly boosted my confidence and courage. I learned how valuable training is and just going out there to seek opportunities.
I spent four months at the restaurant and developed a deep sense of humility after having worked as a waiter. Some business people did not even look me in the eyes when ordering their food and drinks. I swore to myself that whenever I would meet new people, I would treat them with equal respect regardless of their social status. There is a fine but distinguishable line between confidence and arrogance and it can be measured by the sense of friendliness and respect for other people. I once heard of a CEO who goes with job applicants to a restaurant before hiring them. If they treat the waiters with respect, then it is a pretty good sign that they possess at least the basic level of interpersonal skills required to work within a team. This should be mandatory practise around the world.
After a few months of hard work, I organised the East Coast trip with Marcello and two other travel companions. We traveled to Port Macquarie, Byron Bay, Coolangatta, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Island, Cairns, and to many more mind-blowing spots in-between. Australia’s East Coast is awesome.
I also learned that extreme confidence, or overconfidence, can be very harmful. Marcello is a fairly good surfer and at one surfing spot near Tweed Heads he advised me not to enter the sea as only advanced surfers could handle the entry into the water. I did not want to listen to him. My ego wanted to prove him that I am good enough. The cliff blocks almost the whole entry into the water and so, you have to wait for the wave to smash against the rocks, then jump in with the board, and then paddle as fast as possible before the next wave pushes you back against the cliff. I was careful and knew the risks. I studied the wave movements and then jumped in. I paddled as strong as I could and thought that I would make it. But then, the first wave pushed me back to the rocks. I thought I could try again by paddling stronger, but the next wave pushed me further back against the rocks. I heard how the fins of my surf board cracked. I started to panic. Another wave hit me and smashed me against the sharp cliff and my feet started to bleed. More waves arrived. The situation did not look too good. Two other surfers saw me me from faraway and ran towards me to help me. But it was dangerous for them as well. I pushed myself on my broken board and then reached out to their hands. Luckily, I made it out of the water. I do not know what would have happened if they would not have been there. I learned that one should treat the sea with full respect. Nature is more powerful than any human can anticipate. So, what was the outcome of me being overconfident? A broken board, more than a few scars, and a shattered ego. However, it was a good lesson because to this date I do not have the desire to prove myself when being challenged. I know my capabilities and to what extend I can stretch my limitations before it can become dangerous. I learned that risk is always increased when having an overconfident ego.
Once we arrived in Cairns, we immediately searched for farm work to earn money for our next trips. We came across the National Harvest Guide, published by the Australian Government, which contained all the addresses of Australian farmers. We called a few and eventually found a banana farm that guaranteed us work. Knowing that we would soon receive regular paychecks, we spent a few more weeks in Cairns. The real adventure started when we where on the farm. We had no internet connectivity and regularly spotted crocodiles and deadly spiders. This experience in the wild made me more courageous than anything else I experienced before. We worked there for three months to accumulate enough working days to be eligible for a second Working Holiday visa. The farm payed very well and so we were able to finance our next journey. I will never forget the moment when we left the farm and threw our broken shoes on the telephone mast as a sign of ending. At that time, we were just looking forward to leaving the farm but today we often look back and laugh about the good times we had there.
When traveling, you are one day completely alone and the next day surrounded by a group of new people who you might soon even call friends. One learns how to blend in with other people. Interacting with people from different cultures and belief systems is not an obstacle but a valuable and enriching experience. It is interesting to learn what else exists in the world and it was also the reason why I decided to study abroad during my bachelor’s programme.
After leaving the farm, we first went back to Cairns. Marcello wanted to stay there and so, I traveled without him to visit Ayers Rock, also known as Uluru. What happened on the way changed me forever.
I met a new group of travels and together we hired a campervan and traveled to Alice Springs. We visited the amazing Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, Kings Canyon, and then wanted to continue driving to Ayers Rock (also called Uluru). However, on the way we were stopped by a shouting fireman because of a starting bushfire. We were forced to turn back the van and change the route but in that moment the motor broke down. In the middle of the biggest bushfire since 2001! Our story was even mentioned on ABC News.
It was quite hectic from that moment on. The fire came dangerously close. We took most of our possessions, jumped in some other cars that were stopped by the firemen, and escaped the sky high bushfires just in time. We then spent two days at the Kings Creek Station but almost ran out of food as the fireman did not give us enough time to take all our belongings out of the van. We were hungry but survived as other campers fortunately gave us some of their food. During that night I could see the fire flickering on the horizon. It was all dark but one could see the fire in its orange and red colours seemingly connecting the land with the night sky. It was scary and beautiful at the same time.
The next morning we were almost evacuated from the camping spot because the fire was about to approach the site. It was crazy and everyone panicked. But after some hours the firemen were able to control the spread of the fire and we were allowed to leave. We all thought the van burned down but luckily it was not the case and, to our surprise, the motor worked again! The others offered me to join them to Darwin but I was not interested in going there. I was determined to see Ayers Rock as I did not know whether I will have another opportunity to see it. So, I stayed at a hostel in Alice Springs and after researching all the available options, I decided to take a guided tour to see Ayers Rock. It was a great experience and definitely worth a visit. Do things on your own if others do not want to join you. Of course, when working in a corporation, you should be a team player and a great colleague. But generally, if you always do what others want or think is right, even it is obvious to you that it is not, then you are a follower. Not a leader.
Backpacking also means to reduce your lifestyle. When traveling on the road, you sometimes cannot even have a shower. It can be quite uncomfortable and one becomes very grateful for the high living standard one usually has. After my Gap Year experience, I do not take everything for granted anymore.
After Alice Springs, I traveled to Adelaide and from there back to Sydney. I still had a money available and so, I decided to book a one-way ticket to New Zealand.
I arrived in Auckland and booked the famous Kiwi Experience that brought us to major tourist attractions on the North and South Island. I spent most of my money on white water rafting, skydiving, ice climbing, and bungy jumping. It was a great experience and I met many interesting people with whom I still have contact today. When I arrived back in Auckland, I first worked as a door-to-door sales representative and then at a digital marketing agency. Thanks to this experience, I learned many valuable skills and I remember this as the first moment I felt a strong curiosity for the business world. I think once you start developing an unprecedented curiosity for a field, you can be almost sure to have found your passion.
The more I learned about business, the more I understood how the world works. I was living a good life in Auckland but felt a thirst for more knowledge. This led me back home to Germany to enrol into a bachelor’s programme in International Business and Management. I found inspiration and decided to fully pursue it.
There are many people who work just to earn money and not because they are genuinely interested in their work. But what kind of life is it to work on something that you are not passionate about? I believe that a life worth living is in resonance with your values, interests, and goals. Of course, you do not have to be passionate all the time but what is the point in spending most of your working time on something that you do not like? Life is short, make sure to choose something that you like.
I was fortunate enough to have experienced a Gap Year that accelerated my personal development. The qualities I developed and experienced I made during the Gap Year, helped me to successfully complete my study programme and succeed in other areas of my life. If you are still considering to take a Gap Year, then I highly recommend to go for it.