Valentina’s survival guide to an involuntary ‘gap year’

Author Avatar Image

Published by Valentina Chirico
on 04/07/2019

How to (re)start your studies

Have you ever heard of a career gap? Sometimes your career doesn’t follow a straight path. Sometimes an opportunity too good to miss comes along and you take it. That’s completely normal because there are starts and stops in life for everyone.

You might wonder if having a gap in your career or life is a good or bad thing. Whether you see a gap positively or negatively, I want to help you to find the value in taking a break. In this blog, I’m going to share my own experiences of having an involuntary gap in my academic career. My sweet and sour case will show how to restart after a break and how to find new inspiration for your career.

What is a ‘gap’ and should you be worried?

Gap… Not the fashion brand but a break without a defined end. It’s often a time of uncertainty and can be a source of concern for many people. However, it doesn’t have to be seen in a negative way at all…

Take the most popular app on your mobile. It’s a big deal because there was nothing like it before it launched. That app filled a gap. So, I did the same with my studies and life: I filled my own gap.

My experience…

Since I can remember, I have always loved Egyptology. As a child, I fed my curiosity by reading and writing hieroglyphs on scraps of paper. I have since studied foreign languages, then classical archaeology. After years of pursuing my passion, I was rewarded with a BA in Archaeology and History of Arts. In the meantime, a university specialising in Oriental studies offered me a place on their MA programme. That time of my life was frantic and financially difficult, and my graduation marked the start of my ‘gap’.

Graduation
Graduation day!

After graduation, I struggled to see what I should do next and felt a lack of support. I postponed studies as I wasn’t in a financially stable position, and I waited for better times to present themselves. I learned that good opportunities don’t just arrive by magic, you must look for them! Before this realisation, I had given up. For more than a year, I lived on temporary jobs, and I wasn’t positive about my situation. I felt I was wasting my potential, and I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t doing what I loved.

I decided to change all this at the start of 2017 when I chose to make an active change in the way I thought about my career gap. I learned a valuable lesson: it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. The more you miss something – in this case, my love for my degree subject – the more you want it and the harder you’re going to work for it.
So I took a big risk. I applied for a Masters degree in another country, the UK, and soon found myself packing up and leaving my old life behind.

What I did during my gap year

During my gap year I had to work hard and be proactive to change my life.
I found a stable job so that I could save to move to the UK and gain some independence. This greatly boosted my self-confidence.

I also made sure to organise every aspect of my daily life. I budgeted my spending and I gathered all of the information I needed to study abroad. I worked hard and I started to read again about Egypt, my first love. I looked through my old books and saw strings of hieroglyphs. I remembered concepts, facts, places and I rediscovered my lost passion.

My professor – Dr Martin Bommas – once said: ‘It’s passion, not enthusiasm’. He was right!

What to do if you’re faced with an involuntary gap

If you feel stuck, stop and ask yourself: “Am I doing what I love?” and “Am I who I want to be?”. If your answers are no, you’re in a good position! You’re conscious it’s time to change.
You need to put yourself and your happiness first. Concentrate on your potential and what you’re passionate about. Everyone has different strengths and abilities but there’s a career out there for everyone.

Why should you continue your academic studies after a break?

  1. To complete your study path – there’s always more to learn
  2. To deepen your knowledge and become an expert in your field, so that you can learn the skills that are more suitable for your dream role
  3. To develop new skills – it’s like discovering your superpowers which will make you goals easier to reach
My first day at the University of Birmingham!

When you start a new adventure, you can’t predict how many good things may happen or who you could meet! When you look back, you’ll be proud of your achievements. Rediscovering your passion and your potential will build a bridge to a brighter future.

Sometimes, you need a big change to get you moving again (I realised this when I jumped on a plane to Birmingham). Sometimes, you just need a bit of confidence to take your next steps. By having a positive outlook after becoming stuck in a rut, I unlocked many opportunities and I made my dreams possible all thanks to an involuntary break. It’s just matter of passion, determination and perseverance. If you want to start again, don’t panic. Stop and think about what you really want to achieve, then plan and act accordingly. Your involuntary gap will soon be a hazy memory.


Valentina is from Italy and has just graduated with an MA Antiquity – Egyptology.


Want to find out more?

Chat to our staff and students via our regular online events.