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Vietnam youths find ‘gap year’ appealing, helpful

More youths in Vietnam have now chosen to take some time off school or work to explore the world, improve their life skills and gain experience to prep for a promising future.

Pham Dinh Hai Long (back row, C) in a gap-year activity
Pham Dinh Hai Long (back row, C) in a gap-year activity

A “gap year” is a time to stop one’s daily activities, particularly schoolwork, to engage in new projects, charity work or indulge in a hobby.

Youngsters the world over have long been familiar with this concept. In recent years, more Vietnamese youths have become captivated with the idea.

After finishing her third year at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Science, Ha Thi Kim Tuyen, 21, decided to take a gap year.

“I don’t feel very happy when I’m at school, and I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do after graduation. So I want to take a ‘gap year’ to seek answers for myself, learn new skills and do some social work before graduation,” she shared.

Similarly, Pham Dinh Hai Long, 19, confirmed that he has grown considerably more mature after taking a gap year.

Is ‘gap year’ a good idea?

How long a gap year should be is a common question among young people, parents and teachers.

“One year is ideal as it’s not too short for experimenting and assessing results, and not too long to waste one’s time on purposeless trips or activities,” said Huynh Ho Bao Ngoc, a student of the Ho Chi Minh City Foreign Trade University.

Huynh Thi Doan Thuy, of the Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Promotion Center, said that the duration of a gap year varies from person to person and depends on one’s circumstances.

Many youths are confident about the advantages of taking more than one gap year.

“Most of my friends who took gap years emerged with positive changes. Youths should sometimes step out of the so-called “comfort zone” to explore themselves, try new things and find what motivates them,” Ngoc shared.

With his parents supporting his decision to take a gap year, Hai Long engaged in a whole range of new activities, including leading the Vietnam Operation Smile Club at his former school, which helps raise funds for surgeries to repair childhood facial deformities.

After his gap year, he transformed from a timid bookworm into a dynamic, assertive young man. Phong is now studying at Williams College in the U.S.

Although supportive of gap years, Nguyen Diep Quy Vy, of the HCMC University of Social Sciences and the Humanities, expresses concerns that as Vietnamese parents tend to overestimate the importance of their children’s studies and qualifications, it is inevitable that parents are anxious about their children taking gap years.

“I’m supportive of only those with clear, purposeful gap year plans. One more thing young people should take into consideration is finances, as it may be a waste of money and resources to spend money on unnecessary activities,” she elaborated.

On the other hand, others are quite skeptical about the advantages of taking gap years.

One such example is Thieu Mai Uyen, 19, who decided to slow down a bit to engage in hobbies and volunteer activities while continuing her studies.

Uyen has earned a full scholarship granted by Amherst College in the U.S.

“There’s no need to take a gap year at great expense. Sometimes it just takes some extra effort and flexibility to refresh yourself and learn new things,” Uyen shared.

Vu Hai Dang of the British Council in Vietnam is of the opinion that gap years can be hugely beneficial if properly adopted.

He has met with Dale Stephens, a 21-year-old American entrepreneur, speaker, and author who is best known as founder of UnCollege, a social movement that aims to change the notion that going to college is the only path to success, and has run gap-year activities around the world.

However, he stressed that unlike the U.S. or other Western countries, Vietnam still fails to offer systematic orientations and assistance to youths who take gap years, leaving them disoriented and confused with the process.

“If improperly taken, a gap year may leave gaps in knowledge, and in some cases erode youths’ confidence once they resume normal life,” Dang cautioned.