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To gap or not to gap?

Date added: Wednesday 7th August 2013


Annie and others on the AHA course in VeniceTo gap year or not to gap year was a harder decision for my school year, as choosing the year out meant triple the fees at the other end. I had always hoped to have a gap year and so went for the plunge, and after the last five years of schooling and assessment, it came as a very welcome break before starting again at university.


The first, and most definitely best, part of my year was spent on a History of Art course in Italy, run by Art History Abroad. Over 5 weeks we travelled as a group of about 15 down the country, beginning in Verona, stopping in Venice, Florence, Siena, Rome and finishing in Naples, with a number of day trips out of the city on the way. AHA's experience in running courses meant we always stayed in hotels in the best locations for fantastic value.  Almost every day of the trip we were lead by tutors that formed a group of some of the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic and fun people I have ever met, and all of whom were friendly and relaxed - becoming like friends by the end of each stay.  I hadn't studied any art history before, but was planning to do my degree in the subject the following year, and the course not only confirmed my enthusiasm for the subject, but also taught me more than I could have imagined. Seeing so much art in its true context accompanied by fantastic tutors, I gained knowledge and general visual awareness that has not only proved invaluable in my degree but that will enrich my appreciation of art for life.


The trip provided so many experiences that wouldn't have been possible if I'd travelled alone. Highlights Traghetto - the quickest and cheapest way to cross the Grand Canal in Venicefor me included attending a performance at the Area di Verona during the Opera festival, seeing ancient mosaic underwater whilst snorkelling in the Bay of Naples and avoiding the queue of hundreds in our own private evening view of Saint Mark's basilica in Venice. Perhaps five weeks of learning about Italian art and history sounds a little intense for a gap year course, but it was perfectly balanced with visits to modern exhibitions, including the Venice biennale, picnics in beautiful parks, and fun and relaxing dinners out every evening (in all the best, good value local restaurants as suggested by the tutors) with plenty of wine and merriment! We also had enough free time for relaxing, shopping, and of course experience the best of the nightlife in each city.


Before going on the course I was a little concerned I wouldn't get on with anyone, that it might not be fun, and that I hardly knew anything about art. However, choosing Art History Abroad was one of the best decisions I've made - I made a great group of friends from all different backgrounds, and the experience was worth every penny.


I spent a number of months in the rest of my year out working in a French ski resort. I met a great group of people and had a particularly good time because I was not working for a large company but instead had to organise employment and living arrangements, giving me the independence that I think it is important to experience between living at home and going to university. There is a lot of fun to be had in the mountains, but be warned as life can become a bit too relaxed, and it becomes tempting to never leave!


The white sands and the beaches of Bali were a welcome change after the chilly slopes of the French AlpsCraving the heat after months in the snow, I travelled to Indonesia. One might expect to spend every day sunbathing by turquoise lagoons on the white sand beaches of Bali, which of course I did quite a lot of, but I also found myself surrounded by a wealth of visual culture. An incredible experience was hiring a moped and biking along bumpy roads seeking beautiful hidden temples, of which there are hundreds on the island. I also visited numerous artists workshops, and galleries that host beautiful and extensive collections of traditional and modern art. Spending a number of weeks there, I picked up some phrases and talked, ate and partied with the locals.


Choosing to take a gap year was most definitely the right decision, and I think it's important to consider for anyone who wants to experience a bit more and enrich their understanding of the world before starting university. Taking a year out gives you the time and opportunity to travel further to places not possible for just a holiday, and spend enough time there to immerse yourself in the culture. For me it also meant preparing for my degree and ensures I had made the right decision. After my A levels I was ready for a break, and by the end of my year, in which I had some fantastic experiences, learnt a lot, and grew up a great deal, I was excited to begin studying again.


Annie Gregoire's  History of Art course in Italy was arranged with Art History Abroad, a Founder Member of Year Out Group.  Annie is now undergraduate student at the Courtauld Institute.

Annie and friends snorkel in the Bay of Naples to view ancient underwater mosaics


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