COVID19 – How to salvage your gap year

By Michelle Dittmer

COVID19, also known as the coronavirus, took over the world in March 2020, and because of it, many gappers have had to cancel or change their travel plans unexpectedly. While it may be the responsible thing to do for many reasons – for personal safety and global safety to name a few – it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.  Looking forward to an experience for a long time builds up such great excitement and anticipation! You’ve worked to earn enough money to pay for it, built up the confidence to leave home for another country, and developed skills to excel at life outside of your hometown all for these changes to your plan to come out of nowhere. That is a huge reason as to why this change in plans is so devastating.  This blog and Gap Year Podcast episode are here to help you work through the feelings that come up and provide some advice on how to move through the negative emotions into more optimistic actions.   We hope you find this helpful in a time of such emotion, stress and global uncertainty. But first, let’s dive into how to deal with such a big change to your gap year. Step Zero: Feel all the feelingsBefore you dive into any other steps, you need to give yourself a chance to go through your feelings. When you have to change or cancel your gap year plans, it can lead to lots of real, difficult and unpleasant feelings.  This emotional rollercoaster can send you in many different emotional directions so let’s talk about a few of them. But remember, no matter which direction your feelings take you in, whatever you feel is real and justifiable. Some common things you may feel:Disbelief: you may feel that this situation isn’t as bad as others are making it seem, feeling like this can’t be happening to youAnger” you may feel like you have been betrayed by the world, that it is a conspiracy against you or be asking yourself, why me? Why now?Unfairness: you may feel like a victim, like your are powerless in this situation and maybe even wishing that you had left before all of this even started.  Feelings of “if only” might set in.Disappointment: you may feel let down, empty or hopeless about your newfound situationIsolated/Lonely”  you might feel like you have lost a community that you were looking forward to connecting with through new friends with shared experiences.  This can be compounded by social distancing and a loss of your actual community as well All of these feelings are the same as the clinical stages of grief and you are not alone in these feelings.  You have lost something that was important to you, something you worked hard at creating a plan for, and now it’s not working out the way you had dreamed of. That’s hard for anybody!You might also be experiencing some more “shameful” or hidden feelings. Perhaps there’s a small sense of relief. Maybe you were nervous about your trip or uncertain if you were ready and now you have the ability to remain in your comfort zone for a bit. You may even feel a bit of guilt creeping in – guilty that you are so emotional about something as trivial as a trip when others around the world are in much more dire situations.  This is a real emotion too.  Call out these hidden emotions too. It is okay to feel guilty but I am here to say that that guilt isCall out these hidden emotions too. It’s okay to feel guilty, but here’s a reminder: the guild is misplaced! You, in your life circumstance are going through a loss that is very real to you and it is independent of what is happening for others.  On top of that, the world is in a heightened state of stress which complicates and exacerbates all other feelings. You have a lot going on.The final stage of grief is acceptance – and everyone will arrive at this stage on their own timeline. Some can jump right to it and others will take more time.  There is no right or wrong answer but let’s discuss some strategies for getting to acceptance more quickly.To help you move to acceptance, you’ll need to give yourself time to mourn and be upset, but then you can spring into action!  Wallowing in self pity is a dark place to be, so let’s get you moving to a place that recognizes the challenging feelings you have experienced, the loss you have experienced but also shifts to feelings that are more optimistic about what lies ahead.  If you are not ready to be optimistic, that’s okay too.  Spend a day or two feeling the feelings but don’t let yourself get comfortable there.  Come back to this blog when you are ready to pick yourself up. Step One: Look Back  & CelebrateYou are more than halfway through your gap year journey – this hasn’t ruined your entire year! Take a look back. You’ll be surprised at how much you have already grown and experienced.Think about all of the work that went into making the decision to take a gap year, to pick the right experiences for you to achieve your goals and to get all of the wheels in motion to make it happen. Celebrate that – you had done so many new and challenging things before you even started your gap year.You might have worked, done other gap programs, or watched your friends head off to university or college to name a few. Your gap year has not been a waste.  Each and every one of those decisions and experiences has provided you with skills and memories that will serve you in your future.  Yes, even this huge hiccup in your plans will make you stronger and more resilient in your future.Step Two: Take Back the PowerLook around you and see how this is affecting other people.  COVID19 didn’t come after you specifically (although it may feel like it) – it is impacting the economy, the labour market, and international relations. Governments at every level are scrambling to figure out how to protect the global population. No one is celebrating the impact this is having on them. You are not alone. We actually are in an extremely important position – we have the power to save lives by adapting our behaviour temporarily. That is power in itself. By owning that responsibility, it can bring about a sense of purpose in these challenging times. Sure, staying home seems trivial and maybe even like an over reaction, but I can assure you, that when governments with the most up-to-date information and the highest paid resources are closing schools and borders and are calling on retired healthcare practitioners to step up, we are not overreacting.  We have the power – it is in our hands to be the ones to execute what needs to be done to limit the spread of this disease.Step Three: Redefine Your GoalsGo back and look at the goals you set for yourself in your gap year, or, if you didn’t set goals at the start of your year, do that now.  What did or do you want to get out of this gap year?Now, get out some paper – time to do some work!Set up your paper as below:GoalExperiences I have had or will haveStatus    Under the goal column, list all of the goals you had for yourself – consider personal goals, skills you wanted to develop and concrete things you wanted to experience.Under the Experiences column, connect anything that you have done or plan to do that will help you achieve that goal.  In the Status column, mark each goal as Accomplished, In Progress or Not Started. You might be surprised that you have already achieved or started some of those goals.  Take some time to celebrate those achievements.You might also have a couple that are unfinished.  Write each goal that has not been achieved on their own page as a heading. Underneath each one, write down if it is “still possible” or “not possible” given the new circumstances.For those that are still possible, fill the page with ideas of how you will achieve that goal – what experiences can  you still have, what connections can you still make. Use your imagination! No idea is a bad idea at this stage and you can edit the list down later.  If you are having trouble, ask a friend or relative to give you some ideas – you can come up with some amazing things.For those you marked as not possible answer the questions below to help reframe your goals.Why did you have that goal in the first place?Is there an underlying goal to the one you wrote down? What might that be? How else can you achieve it? When else could you achieve it?What will happen if you can’t achieve that goal in your gap year?Here is an example:  Goal: I want to go to AustraliaWhy did you have that goal in the first place? I always wanted to go to Australia, I wanted to have a “big adventure” during my gap year.Is there an underlying goal to the one you wrote down? What might that be? I wanted to show that I can be independent and survive far away from my family. I wanted to have amazing stories to tell about my gap year. How else can you achieve it? When else could you achieve it? I could go to Australia next summer break and work there.  I could plan a camping road trip or go skydiving or apply to get a prestigious scholarship or awardWhat will happen if you can’t achieve that goal in your gap year? I will be disappointed.After working through these steps, you should be feeling a bit better about what you can still accomplish and experience in your gap year.Step Four: Design a New Path ForwardHere is the logical step progression from Step Three – It’s time to put your new plan together based on your newly modified gap year goals.  Look at your lists from the previous activities and start to craft a plan for the rest of your gap year.Step Five: Find CommunitySteps one to four can be challenging to do on your own. It can feel lonely or overwhelming. Finding other people who understand what you are going through, can relate to your experience and can co-create new plans for moving forward will help you in immeasurable ways.Here are some suggestions of where to find that community:Facebook – Gap Year Alumni CommunityGapyearly – find a mentorBook a call with Michelle from CanGapParents can Join our Gap Year Parents – Canada Community 5 Step Recapo   Zero: Feel All the Feelingso   One: Look Back & Celeb