Posts Tagged ‘Aging’

Portrait of a Gap-Year Student

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Portrait of a Gap-Year Student

I didn’t even know what a “gap-year” was before I moved to Buenos Aires. No one in my social circle ever took them. But after moving, I have run into several young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who are taking a break for a few weeks or a few months between one of their college years, and South America is attractive due to its low cost of living. Most of my encounters with gap-years were soon after I arrived, usually when weary of hearing Spanish all day, I would strike up a conversation at the nearest table where I heard a familiar “yeah,… like… yeah, like….”and eventually end up hanging out for an evening.  But there are some lessons I have learned from cavorting with backpack-toting vagabonds 15–[ahem]–or more–years younger than me.

1. A gap-year has a greater party-endurance and shorter recovery time than I do.
20-somethings are bouncy. They have the ability to drink from five in the afternoon ‘till five in the morning, jump around on the dance floor like a jack-in-the-box, stumble home drunk, and wake up the next day with a smile and a hankering to go parasailing. I need to remember this the next time someone invites me to an all-night pub crawl. I recover from alcohol in dog years. (Or they do. I always get that mixed up.)

2. A gap-year has never had a real job.
This is related to the last one, but deserves its own subject. Even if you don’t end up drinking copious amounts of alcohol with a gap-year, you might eventually hear the phrase “What time do you have to be up in the morning?” This is ENTIRELY THE WRONG QUESTION. The right question is: “What do you have to DO in the morning?” It makes a difference whether you have to show up at eight ready to serve coffee as a barista or deliver a business proposal to a prestigious client. Or perform brain surgery. Or strap someone into a harness for parasailing.

3. They are not married.
Now, I can appreciate the “OMG, that guy (or gal) is so frickin’ gorgeous!”  as much as anybody, but…… I have the person I am going home with (or to). I don’t need to hunt. Go ahead, enjoy the hunt, but when you start talking about whether you are wearing the appropriate underwear, it’s my queue to go home. (And if you are a married man in BsAs, it’s your queue as well. I won’t expand on it, but you know what I am talking about. Call your wife and tell her you love her.)

4. Don’t have a political conversation, unless you can keep it very short, or right before you are about to leave.
Because they are ideologues. I was, wasn’t I? So are they. I wouldn’t listen to anyone when I was twenty-two. Neither will they.

5. They are poor.
Nothing against being poor, I was poor when I was twenty-two. Most of us were. Not to be snobby, but it feels slightly inappropriate to offer to pay for someone’s meal when you have just met, and a gap-year needs to watch their budget. I can only eat so many three-peso empanadas before I tire of them. And I have been living here long enough to get tired of the local cuisine, and crave something different. Something different in Buenos Aires usually means paying more for “ethnic” food.


I know the above are blatant stereotypes. The differences between me and a gap-year student really say more about me than about them. I’m not as young as I used to be. I have a job, a marriage, and I don’t go cavorting as much as I used to. And I never took a gap year myself, so perhaps I am a little jealous. But I know that this experience will be a formative one for them going forward, and I really do wish all of them the very best.

The lesson here is that while socializing with those who are “finding themselves,” I found out a lot about me.

Julia Evans wrote this article for where she blogs about her life as an expat.  She also writes a personal blog Evans’ Gate about living as an American expat in Buenos Aires, where she lives with her husband.  Comments on both blogs welcome!

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