Tag Archives: experience

Are gap years (gap yahs) simply an excuse to get pissed and ‘find yourself’?

22 Dec

Gap years have become synonymous with tousled hair, ‘ethnic’ beaded bracelets and late-night beach parties.  Attitudes towards gap years have changed – when I was younger, gap years were almost encouraged as a way of gathering more ‘life’ experience, a way of exploring the world and doing things outside the rigid school curriculum.

In the last few years, though, the ‘student on a gap year’ seems to conjure up images of frightfully posh eighteen year olds, with wads of money from the Bank of Mummy and Daddy who think that getting pissed in a different country means expanding one’s mind and perspective.   There’s a plethora of stuff out there that mocks the average gap yah student for example, this sketch which is pretty spot-on in some respects – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU – and does anyone remember the furore about good old Max Gogarty and his ‘ironic’ journal detailing his travels in the Guardian? http://www.theguardian.com/travel/blog/2008/feb/14/skinsblog

I think it’s a real shame that these caricatures have come to pervade our associations with gap years, and as a person who had a gap year myself, I can safely say that its not all ridiculously posh, rich, vacuous students (debatable…!) looking to sleep around.  My gap year was non-voluntary and came suddenly when I was forced to leave university after a term due to depression and anxiety.  It was entirely unplanned, and initially I found the idea awful.  I saw it more as another year delaying the inevitable while comparing myself with my friends who all seemed to be having so much fun at uni, and there were times when I became very introverted, frustrated and generally disillusioned.  However, for me, it helped to begin the healing process and I managed to get into some sort of structure which is vitally important when you’re down.

Firstly, I needed money.  I ended up working full-time in retail which taught me a lot of things, namely that I didn’t want to work in retail.  I also learnt to curb my expectations.  I think it’s good, no vital, to have dreams and ambitions but many of my dreams were illusions – unobtainable goals.  These only served to make me feel like a failure as I could never achieve the impossible, but working in a monotonous and at times, incredibly boring, job gave me a little perspective about what I should expect for my life.  In a way, by doing something I knew I didn’t want to do, I felt more determined to find something that I did want to do.  Something that would open more opportunities to me and I started looking into courses and universities that I would be better suited to.

Later on in the year, having saved my money for a while, I decided I wanted to travel and engage in the more ‘typical’ gap year experience. Strangely, my good friend was in a very similar position to me and we both decided to do something a bit different.  We booked ourselves onto a volunteering program in Cambodia for a couple of months, where we worked in a school for poor children and an orphanage as English teachers.  At the time, I desperately wanted to escape the tedium of my life, and the malignant thoughts that followed me everywhere.  Yes, I was incredibly self-indulgent but the beauty of my gap year experience was its ability to change my perspective.  I met some of the nicest people I have ever met, and probably will ever meet, who were incredibly strong, kind and genuine despite the fact that they had very little in material terms.  It was refreshing to escape my narrow world of being trapped in my head and I even felt ashamed that I should be so focused on myself.  The picture below shows Indu and I teaching English to a class of the cutest Cambodian children.  Their energy and enthusiasm was incredibly infectious.


So, even though the notion of ‘finding yourself’ is beyond cheesy, my entire gap year experience (at home and abroad) was vital in making me who I am today.  It also gave me the travelling bug, and since then I’ve done internships and volunteered in a number of countries as it’s addictive to lose yourself in another culture.  It also taught me the value of hard work, the kindness in other people (which I had pretty much given up believing in at that point) and that sometimes you need to realise that it is all in your head.  And the world is far bigger than your head.


The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable by Punchdrunk

9 Oct

Yesterday I had my first experience of immersive theatre.  A couple of friends and I moseyed on down to the Temple Studios next to Paddington Station awash with excitement and anticipation.  I had read one vague review of the experience which didn’t really provide me with much information about what I should expect so I went wanting to be pleasantly surprised.  As we queued to store our bags in the cloakroom, we were given a double-sided leaflet with one story on each side.  Both stories were about two couples and in each couple, one member was unfaithful resulting in the person that had been cheated on to descend into madness, eventually murdering their unfaithful partner.  So far, so good.


We were led into a dark winding passageway and told not to talk, and then presented creepy white masks that we had to wear to allow us to distinguish between spectators and actors.  It’s a strange experience to stand in silence next to masked strangers in a lift and as the night progressed, it was interesting to see how the masks transformed us into instant voyeurs, watching the relationships disintegrate before us.  And some of the scenes were very intimate – at times, I looked around and felt I was standing in some strange sex cult…

What followed was three hours of watching and following snippets of action, mostly dancing as dialogue was limited, to try and piece fragments of stories together. The various floors were decorated differently – one was filled with caravans, a pub/ tavern thing, characters’ rooms; another resembled a desert, with sand dunes and creepy religious relics and you were free to wander everywhere and explore the entire set as you wished.  Soon enough, I got separated from my friends which was encouraged – and I began following different characters around, observing their stories.  I hadn’t realised just quite physical the process can be – if, like me, you want to follow the actors to trace the narrative, be warned, as they’re a speedy bunch. I found myself running up and down stairs, bumping into other masked spectators.

Having been given the leaflet detailing the story beforehand helped me understand the basis of the narrative but I must admit I was in a state of confusion for the majority of the experience. Being the cynic, logic-seeking person I am, I found myself trying to make sense of everything and halfway through the three hours, I took a detour to the vintage Hollywood bar, complete with glamorous singer belting out showtunes, and tried to make some sense of everything.  What I’ve since realised is that the narrative of the production is secondary to the intricacies of the set and the emotions that it evokes.  I found that difficult to accept as I am someone who is used to clear plot lines and this was so beyond anything I’d ever seen before, I found it hard to fully appreciate it.

Objectively, the studios are amazing to wander around in and I have since read reviews from people who preferred to explore histories of characters through exploring the set rather than running to follow the action.  The scale of the production is amazing and the physicality of the choreography is inspiring.  Regardless of confusion with the storylines (as there were at least two running in parallel), the themes were clear: infidelity, destruction, despair, reality, illusion, death.

Despite the weak narrative, which I found increasingly frustrating (there’s only so much running a girl can do in three hours and I felt sorry for the more senior members of the audience!), The Drowned Man pushes the boundaries of what is possible in theatre, providing a unique and atmospheric experience and an entertaining, if somewhat bewildering, evening.