Rejuvenating year off

Hitting the reset button during your university career

Whether it’s money problems, too much pressure, or overall confused about what you want to do next in life, taking time off from university in order to do some soul searching, money saving or even just to take a break is an option, too.

A 2004 Youth in Transition Survey conducted by Statistics Canada reported that 40 per cent of young adults went directly to post-secondary education after receiving a high school diploma, while 30 per cent delayed their post-secondary education for more than four months after graduation.

Michael Greenlaw, 20, decided that his path to success meant taking a gap year between his first and second-years of university.

In September of 2015 he was enrolled in and attended classes at the University of King’s College. By September of 2016, he was planning a six-month trip that included stops in Europe and South Africa.

This year he’ll be returning to Dalhousie.

“Going into first-year, I was excited, nervous, didn’t really know what was in store,” says Greenlaw. “By October, I was like ‘this is a lot of stuff right now, this is a lot of schooling happening, and I’m not sure if I like it and if I want to be involved in this system for four years in a row.’”

Greenlaw then made the promise to himself that if he made it through his first year, he would take the following year off and do something he loved: travel.

Money Solutions

No matter how exciting it was to come to this decision, the price would make any student think twice about going on such a long and far away journey. Greenlaw took on five part-time jobs such as an HRM Mascot, and a youth camp leader, he saved every penny from birthdays, Christmases, and other special occasion. Then, he was lucky enough to have his grandmother donate her Air Miles points which fully covered his flights.

Greenlaw found an organization that any student could use to help him out along the way. allows travellers to work in over 155 countries in exchange for accommodations and food.

How it works: a host – someone who needs volunteers to help out on their farm/etc. – posts on the website for help, and volunteers/travellers can then contact them and make arrangements for exchange of services for accommodations.

Greenlaw used on two occasions, having the opportunity to work on an old Chateau in France, and a farm in South Africa.

Shocking yet supported decision

It came as a bit of a shock to Greenlaw that he was going to take a break from his post-secondary education so early in his undergrad.

In high school, he was on student council, sports teams, participated in multiple clubs, earned three scholarships, and a spot in the Foundation Year Programme (FYP) at King’s.

“I think going from high school, I just was more comfortable keeping on with my education rather than stopping after high school and getting lost in the world, and not wanting to go back to school,” says Greenlaw.

With the support of his family, friends, and an open-mind he set off for his six-month journey where he says he learned differently. Undefined by his education.

“I fully supported it,” says Greenlaw’s mother, Stephanie Carver. “I encouraged it. I may even have suggested it.”

Carver had taken a year off after finishing Grade 13 in Ontario. There were a few agreements between her and her son, though.

Besides having to take photos of the house she stayed at when she was in Paris during her gap year, they also agreed that Greenlaw needed a plan for when he got back to Halifax, even if the plan changed by the time he returned.

Moving forward at home

Greenlaw knew he’d head back to school, but didn’t know what he was going to take until recently. His trip gave him some clarity on what was next.

“I think I’m going into it open minded of where the end of my undergrad might take me,” says Greenlaw now that he’s going back to school. “I’m going into International Development at Dal, which is not what I thought I would go into two years ago. My trip definitely opened up my eyes to a lot of the injustices that are going on in the world.”

Greenlaw is pairing international development studies with management, and hopes his experience with youth leadership at his summer job will help him with his goal of becoming involved with youth engagement or development in struggling countries.

Although a gap year might not be for anyone, Greenlaw says “My advice to people who feel the same way I did in first year would be: So what? Now what? So what if you don’t like university? Now what are you going to do about it?”

Heather Doyle from the Academic Advising office at Dalhousie in email correspondents said that each students’ situation is different but advisors are there to work with students to support them through the decision-making process.

If you need academic advising reach out to the advising office at: 

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Jessica Briand