Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gap Month: Artist Ted Higney's Gap Year in Australia

When I decided to explore Gap Years on our blog, the first person I thought to ask about their experiences was my friend Ted.

Ted is a brilliantly talented artist and fellow NSCADU alumni, who lives and works as a gymnastics instructor and artist in Halifax, Canada. After high school he and two of his friends took a Gap Year in Australia, working their way across the country for eleven and a half months. Ted then returned to Canada and worked for several months before beginning his studies at NSCADU, where he graduated with a BFA in 2011.

Ted graciously agreed to share some of his experiences with me today. I hope you'll find them as insightful and inspiring as I do. 

J: Why did you decide to take a Gap Year?

T: I had decided to take a Gap Year because I was uncertain what I wanted and expected out of post secondary education. When the first round of university applications were sent off in my final years of high school I had applied to three Ivy league schools on the off chance I would be selected to attend them. It was sort of a pipe dream which I am now very fortunate did not pan out. After I had been politely rejected from all three institutions it seemed senseless for me to jump directly into a degree when I had little to no goals for academic endeavours. University was not something I was going to take lightly for financial and personal reasons.

While no individual person influenced my decision to take a gap year my family was very supportive in my decision to hold off on university directly after high school. This allowed me to make the choice more easily than had I been faced with a less positive response.

J: What did you do during that year?

During my Gap Year I traveled to Australia on a working holiday visa. I spent the better part of 11 months working and traveling the southern and western parts of Australia. I incrementally worked for several months in multiple cities to be able to afford to travel comfortably without financial restrictions for several weeks. I held a multitude of jobs which included simple waiting jobs and more specialized jobs, such as coaching gymnastics throughout Western Australia as part of a mobile gymnastics service that catered to physical education programs in elementary and middle school settings.

J: Did you always have a set end date in mind?

T: We had loosely decided that because of visa restrictions our trip would last no longer than a year, however I personally had not decided on a set end date. I allowed myself the freedom of making that decision entirely based on how my experience was treating me and how long I thought I needed. Once I had re-discovered my desire to pursue the arts I spent the better part of six months preparing my portfolio for art school admissions and scheduled my return back to Canada to correspond with the beginning of the next academic year.

J: What are three things you wish you had packed, and three things you wish you had left behind?

T: I find this question difficult to answer because so much time has passed and things have happened to me that have blanketed my experience in a haze of nostalgia. However, if I were to do it again I would leave with a far more open mind and throw a little more caution to the wind. I also would probably also have brought a pair of finger nail clippers with me and fewer clothes.

J: What is the most surprising, or out-of-the-ordinary thing you did during your Gap Year?

T: I did many exciting things during my Gap Year, however, I would have to say that the most exciting for me personally was the two week trip I took to Cape Arid National Park as a volunteer for a research project on the critically endangered Western Ground Parrot. I contacted the organization through some kind of online notice that was asking for volunteers for various kinds of conservation and ecological studies happening in Western Australia. I choose to join the Western Ground Parrot crew on a survey trip to Cape Arid.

We spent two weeks camping in the bush, during which time we were trained to listen and record an array of bird calls in the hopes of identifying the number of parrots remaining in the area. Our daily tasks were to be dropped off at dawn and dusk to specific GPS points (some of which were a great distance off the vehicles' paths) where we were to listen and record bird calls and their geographic location of origin. The rest of the day was spent at the camp exploring the park and assisting the researchers in any way possible. Those two weeks were some of the most memorable moments of that year and I learned a great deal from the collection of people who participated in the trip; it was one of the wildest places I have ever had the privilege of visiting.

J: Did you make any valuable personal and/or professional connections during your Gap Year?

T: It has been almost seven years since I took my trip to Australia and there are still several people I stay in contact with from many parts of the world. Some of them I have had the opportunity to reconnect with in recent a visit I took to New York last year (my friend and her partner currently still reside in Perth, WA and I in Halifax, NS). Others I stay in touch with via email and Skype. I still find it strange some of these relationships are very important to me and have grown immensely over the years, even those which were initiated through only several days of actual face to face contact during our travels.

As for professional contacts and relationships, I benefited a great deal from my time in Australia as a gymnastics instructor (something I have been doing part-time or full-time for over a decade). I worked at several different gymnastics facilities across Australia (most were located in Perth or Melbourne) that varied widely in their approach and mandate towards the sport. These experiences helped me grow as a coach and as a person. I now happily support myself through my coaching while maintaining a growing artistic practice on the side. During and after my Gap Year I have had the joy of being able to work with children of all ages and abilities in many different situations and learn from coaches who are recognized nationally and internationally for their achievements in the sport of gymnastics.

ted, and his gymnastics students, on a trip to newfoundland, canada

J: What is the most valuable thing you learned during your Gap Year? 

T: I believe the most valuable thing I learned during my Gap Year was to trust myself and my own decision-making abilities. I had started the trip with two other travel companions (both of whom I still adore, and we remain close friends), but after several trying and unhappy months living together we parted ways to discover things on our own. The courage to do this and my resolve to follow my own path when I could have just as easily followed theirs gave me the ability to trust my own instincts and to do my best to not look back once a choice was made. During that year I learned to relax and not take for granted the here and now, something that has steadily been lost since time has made my Gap Year a foggier and foggier memory.

J: Be honest - do you have any regrets about taking a Gap Year?

T: I have zero regrets in taking a Gap Year, I have been a huge advocate for them ever since my own. My younger sister also took a year after high school to decide what she wanted to do and I constantly preach the benefits of them to the older athletes I work with at the gym.

J: What's your best advice for someone thinking about, or planning to take, a Gap Year? 

T: My best advice to anyone wanting or thinking about taking a Gap Year is to do it. Don’t think too much about it, give yourself that year to recover from the woes of high school (or whatever else you are taking a break from). I would also say challenge yourself, move far away from the comforts of home and familiar faces. You learn the most about yourself and the world around you when you are a little bit uncomfortable. Try new things and be open to everything that comes your way, don’t regret anything and say no as little as possible. We live in a society which dictates that we must always be working towards a goal (whether it be academic or career oriented). The times in our lives when we can almost freely live in the now don’t last for long, take advantage of them while you can.
(emphasis added)

J: If you could take another Gap Year, would you?

T: If I could take another Gap Year I would without question. I’ve in fact been contemplating the idea quite earnestly in the past few weeks, I think it’s time to listen to my own advice again and live in the now for a bit.

Thank you, Ted, for your lovely words.
And for the images and ideas you give to the world.

all images provided courtesy of ted.

Don't forget to enter for your chance to win a round-the-world gap year, courtesy of Havana Club Rum!


  1. This story just made me insanely jealous. I have always wanted to take a gap year!! Love the theme for the month Jess!


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