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Ashima Dingra was born and raised in Toronto. Like so many young high school graduates, she wasn’t quite sure of her career path, but she felt the pressure to come up with something quick. “ In school, among peers we always want to be on the same path as them, applying to universities and colleges, and discussing where we would go after graduating. With parents, family friends and peers at school, I never got asked “What are your plans after graduation” it was always the question “What schools/programs did you apply for?” Taking a year off was never an option, or something I even knew as an option, because I was not informed about it in a school setting at the time. It was always seen as a taboo to take any time off. Especially, in the South Asian community, it is seen as a great achievement to even fast track high school to get into university, and graduate at a young age,” she says.
Ashima never got to take a gap year, however she did take a year-long career-break. She spent two months in India, reconnecting with her roots and relatives, not just to attend a wedding. That experience was so awesome that she resolved to do some more traveling and on her return plotted a trip through Asia. “I volunteered in Tanzania, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and backpacked through Europe,” she adds.
Today Ashima works at her dream job- Director of Projects Abroad, Canada. She counsels dozens of parents and students on gap year options and last year did a presentation for grade 12 students and their parents explaining the concept of a gap year.
Ashima has met some truly wonderful travelers along the way which has enriched her understanding of the world and its people. She discovered for instance that it was pretty common for Australians to backpack through Southeast Asia upon graduating high school. Many Australian employers are reluctant to hire high school grads right after university and prefer if they did take a gap year off fearing they would take a year off after they start working.
Projects Abroad Canada, offer gap year volunteer programs, to experience cultural exchange while contributing to service projects in developing countries. “We may have an idea through textbook context what may interest us (or what will make our parents happy), and then spend a lot of money pursuing a university or college degree pursuing it, only to realize it may be a waste when we find out it is not the career we can be happy with. The value of self discovery in a year will have invaluable impact on the average 40 years we spend in the workforce,” promises Ashima.
Ashima’s only regret is she wishes she could have explored the world sooner. But as they say, better late than never. – CINEWS