How A Gap Year Abroad Can Change Your Life

Ever thought about gapping abroad for a year or two, but worried about the impact it would have on your life, career and future? The irony is that those who have taken this leap of faith and taken a gap year, say that the benefits for their attitude to life had the opposite effect.

It dramatically opened up new vistas. Typically the two most commonly cited reasons for taking a Gap Year are “a desire for increased self-awareness” and to address academic or career burnout.

Our travel writer, Vanessa Lynn Uzcategui, shares the very personal experience of her gap year in Madrid, and how it changed her outlook on life, and her willingness to be open to the new, weird and wonderful.


It was exactly one year ago that I wrote a blog entry regarding all the surprising things I found about life in Madrid after only a month in Spain. “The girl who’s carried an agenda since 4th grade finds herself in the present and *gasp* without a plan,” I wrote.

It was the most perfect unplanned plan I have ever carried out. The entire year was filled with surprise. I allowed myself to be stunned by Spain. Living abroad for an entire year without a clue of what I would do after gave me the most useful understanding of myself, the things that matter to me, and the direction I aim for now.


In order to discover my future, I had to completely give up my past. I gave up my dream job, my home, my timetable, the man I loved, and finally, I had to give up my vision of what I thought my life must look like. I started out afraid, then became super excited, only to get heartbroken, and ended up immensely alive.

A year later, I am mixing into the plan-less method a stronger sense of direction and self. This means I have goals again! I have things I want to accomplish. I have confidence. Still, I am leaving the door open for those unpredictable patterns of life: the ones that might come, and take all my plans away once again. Because now I understand that I would much rather start from scratch than get stuck.

This second year living in Madrid, I am starting everything from scratch. I am teaching English with renewed commitment for child education; I am madly in love again; I am making brand new friends; I am visiting new cities; and…I am already planning to move across the world next year (again!). This past year was my “gap year,” despite the fact I graduated college 5 years ago. I cannot say with certainty that this method will work for everyone the way it did for me. But giving myself a year, to have zero plans, zero dreams, zero expectations, was just about the healthiest thing I have done for my mind.

Thankfully, I had the drive and means to move abroad. Some call me lucky. But I’d much prefer you use words like driven, or open.

If you are hesitating on whether to take a gap year traveling, or living abroad for a while (teaching English is great way to do this!) – and want someone who’s done it to put in their two cents – here’s a list of reasons why I would encourage you to jump the fence. And because I cannot promise your experience will be the same as mine, I am not going to give you my personal reasons. You have your own path. Your adventure will be as unique as your own mind, and your journey as transforming as your own openness. Instead, I will give you the quotes that I have found extremely insightful and revealing of what it is like to live a year abroad:

“I could tell you my adventures – beginning from this moment, but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland



“I didn’t feel sad or happy. I didn’t feel proud or ashamed. I only felt that in spite of all the things I’d done wrong, in getting myself here, I’d done right.”

– Cheryl Strayed, WILD



“All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights, have, I find, not at all cured me of my love of Beauty.”

– John Keats, letter to Fanny Brawne



“…my heart, it went wild. I wasn’t expecting that…But it came without fear, a month turned into a year. I wasn’t expecting that.”

– Jamie Lawson, Wasn’t Expecting That song



“Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”

– Homer, The Iliad



“Tell him yes. Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.”

– Gabriel García Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera



“Go venture far beyond the shore, don’t forsake this life of yours. I’ll guide you home no matter where you are. He said, ‘One day you’ll leave this world behind. So live a life you will remember!”

– Avicii, The Nights



“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

– William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18



“I have wonderful news! …You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!”

– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars



“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Get more out of your Gap Year abroad by learning new language skills before you go, to really immerse yourself in the adventure. Teaching your own language in the target country is also a great way to pay your way if traveling or to supplement income if working.


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Vanessa Lynn Uzcategui

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