Don't delay, get away today

Updated: 2012-05-14 07:04

By Sun Dongchun (China Daily)

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Editor's note: Sun Dongchun is the author of The Delayed Gap Year, the first book on the topic to be published in China. Sun travelled for 13 months from late 2006 to early 2008 in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Nepal and also in China's Yunnan province and the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. He now lives in Japan.

My book was called The Delayed Gap Year because I started my trip more than two years after graduation.

I was working in the landscaping industry in Guangzhou at the time. The common definition of success in China nowadays is to make money, buy a big house, buy a car and get married. Everyone tells you so and you are expected to do all of these things as early as possible. But was it the life I really wanted? I was rather confused.

That was why I started the trip. I didn't quit my job and only asked for three months leave initially. However, I found it hard to stop and so I sent a letter of resignation to my boss.

As it turned out, I made the right decision and the year did help me a lot. The days spent caring for the dying made me think about the meaning of life and taught me to live with the power of love. The days in the Hunza Valley in Pakistan turned me from an atheist into a theist. I also met my wife during the journey.

Some people said my book inspired them to undertake their own gap year. I was really happy to learn that, but I know it can be hard for Chinese students to take a gap year.

First, it is still a new concept in China and the existing dominant values are not supportive of the practice because it rarely leads to an immediately practical outcome.

Also, despite China being the world's second-largest economy, wages are still not high. Students from developed economies may not find it difficult to save enough money for a yearlong journey by doing part-time jobs. But for Chinese students, it takes much more time and effort.

That's why, unlike their counterparts in Europe, the US and Australia, a lot of Chinese gappers actually take career breaks, rather than travelling before starting their first job.

I encourage young people in China to get to know about the idea and have their own gap year, be it an entire year or just a few months. That's because when you meet different people and live in a different culture, you experience so many diverse values.

I also know that the younger generation is more self-aware and independent. I hope they don't delay their gap year like I did. Young people are open-minded and are at the right age to explore themselves and the planet.

Sun Dongchun was talking to Tang Yue.