Forget your “gap yah” judgements, here’s why you should travel

A grad’s perspective on the merits of venturing beyond the bubble…

Cambridge education gap-year travel

It’s an all too frequently used cliché that a picture paints a thousand words.

However, at the start of another academic year as students begin to moan about the inevitable onslaught of essays, this photo of a young Turk during the July protests in Istanbul haunts me. What is the merit of education and why do so many students submit to it so reluctantly?

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Photo credit: Omeed Alikhanizadeh

I recently drove from London to Outer Mongolia in a tiny 1.2l car for charity. I’ve also enjoyed the stark educational contrast of a Cambridge freshers’ week. When considering the contrast this photo presents to my current Cambridge environment, I am sure I am not alone in questioning the relative value of  university education.

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Photo credit: Mikey Dicks

After facing a total contrast in routine and daily challenges in a suitably extreme manner, at the risk of sounding like a fresher back from a “gap yah”, I have come to appreciate the variety of ways in which education can manifest itself and that there are some things that you just can’t teach in a lecture theatre. Travel, no matter how far away from home, is extremely important, undervalued and misunderstood in the current conveyor belt-esque approach to youth prevalent in modern Britain and indeed our educational system as a whole.

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Engineers aside, how many of you can actually do this? Photo credit: Mikey Dicks

The current system goes as follows: A student goes to school, then, if they want, university or apprenticeship. How much space does the rigour of our current education system leave for the promotion of personal intelligence and emotional growth? While you can’t argue that exploration is not possible in conjunction with academia, the culture of expectation around our generation hardly makes it easy. Even now, we’re still regularly asked why we decided to drive 20,000km in a month or so. We respond by questioning why it’s unusual to want to go out and explore the world.

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Photo credit: Mikey Dicks

John Lubbock’s quote: ‘We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth’ is all well and good, undoubtedly true and understandably favoured by a university preaching intelligent discovery. But from personal experience, I think Samuel Johnson’s quote ‘The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality and, instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are’ is the logical step to take.

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Photo credit: Omeed Alikhanizadeh

Stepping into the unknown against one’s better judgement has been the subject of countless novels, plays and films in popular culture. Yet I can’t help but think that it is being lost in our expanding yet shrinking modern world.

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Photo credit: Mikey Dicks

There is more to the world than the educational conveyor belt and this must be more broadly recognised, not questioned. Travel has transformed many great men and women who have sculpted the modern world. Its importance for youth development can’t be ignored.

While we can’t all aim for such lofty heights, we can aspire to the Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows quote. Let’s hope that after our travels “when the cup has been drained and the play been played, we can sit down by a quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company”.