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Lesson learnt on a Gap year - Fitzroy GP Dr Aveline Loh

In 2011, I had the opportunity to take a year off the routines of life and travel with a friend. 8 years on I look back fondly on that year; The experiences and lessons learnt are etched in my mind and has no doubt played a part in shaping the person I am today.

We started our journey in India, where the most memorable event would have to be a 19 hour train ride in a non-reserved carriage. The seats were hard and fixed at 90 degrees, it was hot and stuffy and there were so many people there was hardly any breathing space. Despite this, everyone was friendly and chatting to each other. We were even offered biscuits from the family sitting next to us! The camaraderie was refreshing and made us realise how much difference a smile and a 'hello' would make to someone's day.

Our next stop was Nepal, where we met two American guys who invited us to ride on Mo-peds to visit the surrounding temples. This was definitely way out of our comfort zone. However, to embrace the spirit of adventure we agreed to go along. The ­journey was hair raising to say the least (my friend we believe got shingles from this episode of stress), but we got to see many beautiful temples and had the opportunity to ride a Mo-ped. Although we both concluded that we would never ride a Mo-ped again, it was an experience we would never have had had we not stepped out of our comfort zones and embraced the opportunity to try.

From Asia we moved on to Europe. In Croatia we decided to rent a car to allow us greater freedom to explore. With this flexibility we were able to explore places off the tourist routes and found this more interesting. No doubt the old cities of Split and Dubrovnik were magnificent, they seemed pack full of tourist it was hard to find a quiet spot. Driving around we were able to stop at other towns including a UNESCO wooden toy making town, and Varazdin a beautiful town close to the Hungarian border. We found that the unplanned journeys afforded us the most rewards, and treasures often lay off the beaten track.

Another memorable experience we had in Croatia was watching the moon rise whilst we were on the island of Korcula. Despite being in our mid-twenties, neither of us had ever seen the moon rise. We reflected on the fact that we had never taken much notice of this small but significant event that happens every single day. Perhaps we all need to take some time out of our busy schedules to notice and appreciate the small things in life.

Finally, we travelled to Tanzania where we had the opportunity to visit a small missionary hospital. The doctors there saw many patients in the clinic and managed with rudimentary diagnostic facilities. It opened our eyes to how medicine is practiced in a developing country and made us appreciate the resources we have in Australia.

Incidentally, it was also in Tanzania where we decided on General Practice as our career paths. I remember the 'light bulb' moment when we sat in our accommodation one evening and brainstormed our career options. After writing a list of pros and cons for both GP and physician training, it was resoundingly clear to us that we were better suited as General Practitioners than Physicians. 8 years later, we still agree that this was the best decision we had made.

The 6 months of travel allowed us to immerse ourselves in cultures and experiences we might not have encountered otherwise. In doing so, we have become more open-minded and accepting of diversities. More importantly, it made us crawl out of our comfort zone to discover what the world has to offer. These experiences have made me a more confident, independent and responsible adult. It has also taught me about the kindness of humans, gratefulness and the importance of appreciating the little things in life. Taking a gap year, had enabled me to learn more about other people and places and to learn more about myself.

I acknowledge that I am privileged to be able to afford the time and expenses to leave the hum-drum of life and take a gap year. Given the opportunity, I think people should consider taking a gap year to experience the wonders of the world and perhaps discover something new about themselves.

I believe that every new experience (travel or anything else under the sun) is an opportunity to learn something new and enrich our lives. Sometimes the greatest thing holding us back is the fear of taking the plunge into change. However, only when we are able to step out of our comfort zone will we grow and perhaps even find where the magic happens.

Fitzroy Psychologist Dr Aveline Loh is available for bookings at The Neighbourhood Clinic. Click here for more INFO or to BOOK ONLINE.

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