A tale of saving up, pandemic repatriation and banana bread boredom.
If a recently graduated student of Oxford university was to visit Oxford for the day they would instantly notice that things have changed. You have to book the library, halls are for takeout, Plush is a bar at best and closed at worst, but they would most saliently, most obviously, most overwhelmingly notice the tangible absence of the post-gap year archetypal character. Where are the trousers with culturally appropriated elephants on them? Where are the glowing tans from people whose skin complexion has still not adjusted to our grey climate? But most importantly where is the “yah yah Broad Street totally reminds me of this little Italian street in Venice where I dabbled in painting nudists.”
The pandemic has successfully managed to almost clamp down on the “gap yah dialect.” Instead of trekking in Tanzania, people were permitted one long walk in the park near their house, instead of tasting wine on a vineyard people would taste their mum’s banana bread for the seventh time that week, and instead of getting fucked with strangers in a Berlin night club the gap year students would drink with their friends through pub quizzes on zoom. Gap year culture mutated this year from being something all about independence, self-discovery and in many regards a selfish pursuit, to instead being increased dependence on the family, self-preservation in your room and the selfless stress of constant social consciousness.
The first stage for these boomerang gap year graduates was the working phase. Their motivations were similar to any other year: some were reapplying, some just wanted to chill and some like the Bio-chem student Ismay, “just wanted some time off the treadmill of life”. Oh to have a gap yah… Following this initial stage many were lucky enough to achieve their wildest dreams of “finding themselves in the alps” or at an “impact investment group in Mozambique” and some even managed to fit the “South-East Asia Banana pancake” travelling route into a mere two months. At this point the pandemic was only lurking in the “extras” section of the Guardian online. But then reality struck, the Pandemic hit and wearing Harem Pants on an elephant was soon displaced by wearing a mask on a sombre plane ride home. Imagine the trauma of being only half-way through finding yourself and having to say goodbye to your gap year boyfriend that you’ve known for a whopping seven days.
So then came the most interesting phase of the Corona induced gap year: returning to the motherland and not getting any of the benefits of seeing friends to even talk about the “gap yah” that you experienced. Instead, after months of personal growth outside the family nest, a corona monster forced them back into sharing that same sized nest which suddenly felt all that much smaller. With only parents to speak to and siblings to annoy it was, as PPE student Helena, put it “really tough”, but worst of all was the change in mentality “from expecting to go away” to having “a lot of family time.”
Even those who would normally prefer the company of their family said “it was weird being back under the control of family life” after being away for so long. Another part which was specifically challenging following the “homecoming” was that most people’s families were managing online work meetings or going to school on zoom every day. For the first time for many of these predominantly privately educated students they had no purpose, nothing to strive for apart from completing the pancake cereal TikTok challenges and nothing to keep them overly-programmed. Throughout all of this, the phrase “when I was in my gap yah” was slowly dissolving into the endless void of time.
However, that being said, many adjusted emotionally and practically to the new situation. Yes, they couldn’t go to Berlin but they could still learn German and no they couldn’t go work for a start-up in Washington DC, but they could be like History and Economics student Alex and “set up a small business online.” The internet became their oyster and their dogs have never been such essential accomplices to their post gap yah woes. For the first time, many of the luckier 18 and 19 year olds could just chill with their families and read that book they’ve been meaning to read since before A-levels but just never had the time. Life lessons learnt on that mountain in the Alps ironically helped them to deal with the mountain of staying inside and taking a step back for six months. Therefore, the boomerang phase was definitely still formative in the undergraduate Oxford students that they are today.
When asking these boomerang gap yah students if they regretted taking a gap year, not one of them said yes. Although it was stressful coming back, being repatriated and not having anything to do during lockdown, even the concept of just taking time to themselves taught them in some ways a lot more than a tour guide in Italy ever could. They learnt a ton of skills that they said helped them in their approach to uni life: the boomerang gap yah skills of resilience and disappointment but then they also learn the traditional gap yah lessons of : “not sweating the small stuff” being “more mature” and generally “less stressed.”
One of the gap yah interviewees even expressed that many of her friends who didn’t take a gap year are “still on that massive academic treadmill where every minute of work they do is for their private equity job in four years”. However, they were fortunate to learn the lesson of doing something just simply because they enjoy it. A crazy concept for an Oxford student…I know. So when that recently graduated Oxford student roams around the streets of Oxford, sure, they will hear a lot less “gap yahs” and see a lot less “harem pants” but they might still be exposed to the resilience, hindsight and independence of a post-gap yah student. If they went into Taylors and listened closely enough they might even overhear Bio-chem and boomerang gap yah student Anna perfectly conceptualizing her resilience in her elegantly chosen words “yah it was bit shit leaving the alps” *sighhh* “but…well…we move.”