Why do taiwanese people take gap years so late in life?

Updated: Jan 17

I'm currently working on a project in which I'm helping Taiwanese people in the West (particularly the UK) with their resumes.


Because I believe in empowering people. I believe in giving people at least a fighting chance when they leave their homeland (hell, even continent) to start a new kind of life.

And you know what? I've been so blown away by the awesome, awesome people that have crossed my path. I have met people that worked (very successfully) at one of the biggest companies on Earth and then went traveling for a year to learn Spanish in Central America. I met someone who co-founded and curated Tedx talks... nurses-turned-engineers, people carrying PhDs in medical who-knows-whats that I never even thought of.

Their capacity is absolutely astounding and if a few CV tweaks is going to help them take their next awesome step in life then I'm truly, truly honoured to be the one to do it.

One thing I've noticed from looking at over 200 CVs now is that Taiwanese people, on average, tend to "do" their gap years about 5-10 years after they graduate University. They go off and learn languages, learn about an entirely new industry, or even win barista awards despite never having worked in a coffee shop previously.

What is a gap year anyway?

I think for a lot of Brits it's a year of discovery and travel, of blowing their inheritance money (or their hard-earned cash from after school Greggs shifts). There's plenty of jokes and videos all around the Internet making fun of the Brit on their gap year, and yes, I'm guilty of making fun of them too. But the point is, people take gap years for all sorts of reasons, but mainly, it's to do whatever TF you want. To experience freedom from parents, grades, confines of society. To experience other cultures and test global boundaries.

My gap year was spent in Spain. I had grown up in a very sheltered Taiwan and wanted to experience Europe in all its (partying) glory before focussing on University (basically, I was worried I would spend most of first year drunk in a ditch purely because I could). I moved to an ancient Spanish town, studied, drank, partied, interned... I lived! I truly lived. It was glorious.

Taiwan is an astounding place. It is beautiful, friendly, advanced in more ways than one. But... it wasn't always like this.

I grew up in the era of corporal punishment. My family famously moved to Holland because I was hit by a teacher when I was like 7 for not doing my homework (my sister maintains it was her punishment that broke the camel's back but whatever). I grew up in the era in which students went to school 6 days a week and didn't have summer holidays to speak of. Children, still, to this day, get inundated with remedial classes 3/4/5/6 nights a week. Yes, you read that correctly. With our brilliant test scores on the international stage you wouldn't think we'd need it, but apparently if you're not number 1 in class you're not good enough so everyone has to keep cramming shit in their brain. They call it cram school for a reason. My parents owned one, I'm intimately knowledgeable of this.

There's this weird, unwritten rule that you spoil kids in elementary school because as soon as they hit middle school the long hours, intense studying and crazy competition gets real. And kids no longer get to be kids, but a slave to the test book until they get to University. University was some kind of trophy that they would get as a result of giving up their adolescence.

Now, (most of) this was 20 years ago when I was growing up. A lot has changed since then, but the CVs I'm looking at reflect the children from that generation.

The generation where you were not to question your parents, and do as you were told. The generation in which you were not to be seen, and most definitely not heard. A generation where if you weren't in the top 5 in your class, you were somehow automatically stupid. Even if the grading curves were narrow as all hell. Some broke from the grip of tradition and managed to study something cool like Design or Media at University. Most were not so lucky and went, "the traditional path".

But then, you graduate from University and you get a decent job. Maybe you move back home, maybe you stay in the big city. You relax into yourself finally and you start to explore your interests more vigorously than you did at Uni. Your pay is your own, you're no longer beholden to your parents. You have done your duty. You have achieved academically and become a functioning member of society. The age of the mobile phone and Internet made everything more accessible. And boom, suddenly you realise there's a whole new world out there and you are late for keeping up with it.

That's when the adventure element of life comes in. The realization that actually, there is more to life than being the number 1 in your class. There is more to life than the narrow world-view your parents held. And we start to break free. We've proven ourselves to be more than acceptable daughters and sons, we have shown that we can live a normal life-- if we want. And while we are eligible for working holiday visas in Canada, Australia, UK, we will. While Europe accepts Taiwanese passports under Schengen laws we are a-okay to push our boundaries a little more and see what life is like on the other side of the planet.

We travel because we can. As the world shrinks for us and the power of our passport expands, we will continue to use our own, our very own purchasing power to do what we want. Explore what we want to explore. Our gap years can be as long as we bloody well like, as long as we can keep funding ourselves.

This is why (my generation of ) Taiwanese people do gap years later. Because that's when we realize we can.

And as an outside insider looking in, I couldn't be more honoured to call them my brothers and sisters. I couldn't be more humbled by their ingenuity and creativity. I am cheering on their courage and adding oil (加油)where I can. I am so proud to be Taiwanese because of the example set by my fellow citizens.


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