- What did you do during your gap year?
My gap year was split into two: the first semester, from September to February, and the second semester, from February to June.
The first part of my gap year was very interesting but also totally unexpected. My first idea was to find an internship and work the first semester. Unfortunately, for several reasons – companies could not offer internships during those months, there were no great opportunities at that moment – I changed my plan and decided to travel. From Australia to India, and other countries, I had time to think about what I really wanted to do, deciding to specialise in Energy Economics. This time also allowed me to dig further into this field, as well as learning skills that were relevant for Economics but that we didn’t study much at university, like programming.
The second part of the semester was more academic. I went to the Guanghua School of Management (GSM), in Beijing. The experience was rewarding: I met locals and foreigners there, some of whom I am still in contact with, and had the opportunity to study completely new subjects, such as accounting, entrepreneurial management, and finance. However, I did not find the workload very demanding, as there were not many courses to choose from. Because of that, I decided to do an internship while studying, and worked for a company called WildChina, a travel company, where I helped plan their long-term strategy, presenting financial support ideas supported by data. In addition, I joined the school’s football team, and we won the University Cup!
- How did the gap year contribute to your personal, professional, or academic development?
From a personal perspective, I learned a lot about being flexible and handling unexpected situations. I felt a lot of frustration at the beginning of the gap year, and at some moments wondered if I was losing my time: was this traveling giving me something? Finally, I realised that you can only partially control what happens in your life, and that being adaptable and optimistic in bad moments is important. This was also the period when I decided what my ultimate goals were: for instance, my goal is to learn as much as I can about energy economics, and I realise that it is more important to study this topic all day. This might “steal” time from the other classes you take, and maybe you risk receiving a bad grade in class. But what is the importance of passing M2 with, say, 13 instead of 12, if you know nothing about the topic you like the most? Don’t just study: learn.
From a professional perspective, I learned a lot from working in a Chinese environment. The Chinese culture is so different in all perspectives that the amount of things you can learn working for only six months is crazy. I also completely changed my plans in terms of professional career: I initially wanted to do finance, finally focused on energy economics.
- What advice would you give to another student who would like to do a gap year?
The school administration is very helpful in the straightforward procedures leading up to the semester abroad. Most of what I can add could be found on the Internet, but here are some basic ideas and tools that could help students going to China for their gap year:
- Be aware that you will not have any data when you arrive. I bought a really expensive sim-card at the airport, but I suggest you to not do this and go straight to one of the big operators.
- Download a VPN (VPNExpress is the one that I used): you should pay for a good one.
- Download WeChat, it is like WhatsApp but much better and more necessary in China, as you can use it for other things, such as making payments.
- Try to be in contact before arriving with some real estate agencies that can help you find a place to live as soon as you arrive.
- Download MapsMe, it is like Google Maps (that you cannot use in China) but you can download the map of Beijing, for example, and use it without connection.
- Take a look at the website “www.thebeijiners.com”, I used it to find my internship but it is also useful when you are looking to contact some real state agencies.