Gap year makes a world of difference

Updated: 2012-05-14 06:59

By Tang Yue in Beijing (China Daily)

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Gap year makes a world of difference

Badao milks a cow in Wellsford, New Zealand in June 2010.

Gap year makes a world of difference

Wu Fei picks kiwis at an orchard in Opotiki, New Zealand in May 2010. 

'Be the change'

Gap years and working holidays are still relatively new concepts in China, so a lot of people tend to romanticize them before setting out, according to Wu Fei, who also spent a year in New Zealand.

"There was fun, adventure, interesting people; but they also had difficulties and challenges: finding a job, the culture shock, unexpected experiences," said Wu, who wrote a book called Working Holiday after arriving back in Shanghai last year.

"I know some travel agencies are asking as much as 200,000 yuan ($32,000) for a one-year study and travel plan for gap years, it's ridiculous," said Mao Hexin, a co-founder of, China's first website to focus on gap years.

After graduating last summer, Mao spent more than three months in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, clocking up roughly 5,000 kilometers.

"For me, a gap year need not necessarily be a whole year; it could be just a few months or a few years. It's not a luxury trip or an escape from the real world. It's more like an expedition in which you learn about yourself," he said.

"You shouldn't expect a different world when you come back. Instead, you should 'be the change.'"

Anxin agreed. Once, she couldn't bear to look at disabled beggars on the streets, yet at the hospice in India she cared for a man who had suffered burns so serious that "his only distinct facial feature was his mouth".

Meanwhile, the autistic children she worked with in Thailand could be also difficult - they would play happily with her for a while before suddenly slapping her and pulling her hair.

"I was shocked and even hurt, but then I was inspired," she said. "You can distinguish between sympathy and empathy after learning how much they've gone through." The experience led to a revelation; she has now decided to become a psychotherapist to help needy children and elderly people.

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