My gap year experience and what the education system doesnโ€™t tell you

Gap year blog post

Hey guys and welcome back!

It’s been a while since I last posted and the blog has had a bit of a make-over!

More Ferrajean details will be coming soon as we are working on some pretty exciting things….but we can’t reveal too much right now ๐Ÿ˜‰

In light of the recent A-levels and GCSE results days, I would like to share with you my experience 2 years ago and how I came to be in the place I am today.

In 2 days time, I will be moving to Paris to start my university course. (*panicking*) But, just 2 years ago I didn’t think that this would happen and that it was more of a fantasy than a reality. Let’s rewind.

June 2017

A-levels exam time. It had been quite a tough year but this particular exam period was draining to say the least. At the time, I didn’t put a name to it but I was depressed. I would wake up every morning with the intention to revise for 6 hours but would end up staying in bed. I would make a large stack of revision posters and flash cards but not take any of the information in. I felt quite numb to it all. I would get panic attacks during the night and not really understand why they were happening. It wasn’t until I reflected on the year in January 2018 that I truly understood what I was feeling.

At the time, I had been skipping a few classes which was out of character for me. But most mornings it felt like I couldn’t physically get out of bed and I convinced myself that I would do better revision at home. So I told my teacher I was ill and stayed in.

Usually I do well in exams and can stay relatively calm under the pressure. But that year it felt so much heavier than before. And for the first time I lost track of time during a few exams and didn’t get to finish my papers. For a long time my grades had been a huge part of who I was and I was proud of the work I had put in in secondary school and sixth form. In a way they had defined me. So when I received my results I was disappointed with myself.

Looking back, I didn’t do as bad as I had put myself down for but I still know I could have worked harder. But it is also not about that. Mental health should be a priority for the education system. There is so much pressure put on students to do their best regardless of what they are personally going through. It is not spoken enough about in schools and, at the time, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about how I felt because I did feel alone. But, not to be cliche, if you feel like you are drowning at school or feel numb to it all, know that you are not alone. There are always people you can go to and I have listed a few good resources to go to at the bottom of this post.

As an A student, I felt extremely disappointed in myself when I received 3 Bs for my A-levels. At the time, I had planned to apply to Oxford that September and I was gutted that I had let myself down. For a while, I kept replaying my A-levels, seeing where I should have worked harder. English Literature had been one of my strengths since I was young and it had always been my favourite subject. Getting a B in that was what I was most disappointed about. However, I felt that I had done better in English and I got my poetry paper re-marked. My grade went up to an A and I felt so relieved. But it also taught me that my grades shouldn’t define me.

What I got in my A-levels and my GCSEs are not who I am. They don’t prove who anyone is or where they can go in the future. We are learning everyday and from everything and what the education system doesn’t tell you is that institutionalised education isn’t for everyone. There are other options out there.


Taking a gap year was a new start for me. I was in control and the way I was learning didn’t feel forced.

In year 11, I had so many talks about which college or sixth form is the right one. Will it get me to the right university? What is sixth form like? But no one mentioned that there were other options. No one told us that it’s okay to not want to sit in a classroom and memorise a text book and that you can reach your goals without going on to higher education.

What schools fail to mention at these critical times is that we are learning everyday and education can come from so many different paths, not just the one that they have set out for us.

So, when I began my Level 3 apprenticeship in Digital Marketing, it felt new, exciting, a little scary, but completely in my control. No one had told me to do this and it felt good.

I spent my gap year working in an events company and experiencing a professional environment. I was able to apply what I was learning in marketing to my job and I learnt so much more effectively. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and given more responsibility than I thought I was capable of handling. My confidence grew immensely and I went from being quite insecure to almost sure of myself.

I built great friendships with people in my class and at work, of which I was unable to fully build when I was in school.

I did so many rewarding things and things that I didn’t think I was capable of. I wrote an ad for TIME and FORTUNE magazine, I put my anxiety aside and negotiated with people over the phone and other people believed in me.

Being in that new environment felt so refreshing and liberating. I wasn’t limited to a specification and grade boundaries and it allowed me to explore new things outside of work.

I signed up for an aerial silks training course, I taught myself how to play the ukulele and have started on the violin. I travelled to Edinburgh alone. I flew to France and stayed there for 4 days with my friend and I flew alone for the first time when I returned from another trip to Poland.

Not only did my apprenticeship open new doors for me, it also gave me some financial freedom to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

This year also taught me that I am okay by myself and that I do enjoy my own company. Friendships can be quite hard to hold on to at this time in your life and you may lose some along the way. I found that sometimes that is necessary and that you should really appreciate the good people you have in your life. But don’t be afraid to be alone.

Last week, I left my apprenticeship and job early and I can genuinely say that I will miss the people I worked with over the past year.

I believe that everything happens for a reason and I am on a new journey now. I was partially raised by my grandmother and she was always opposed to the idea of university as she always wanted me close. So, for the past 2 years I have been fighting with her to try to convince her to let me go. During year 12 it seemed impossible, she wasn’t going to crack.

But this year, last minute, I applied to a university in Paris. Paris has always held a place in my heart and to be accepted was a dream. But for my Nan to then accept it was a completely unexpected and amazing turn of events.

2 years ago, the idea of her helping me pack for university seemed like a far off fantasy. But, after just having packed my first suitcase with her, I know that I’ll get where I need to go; eventually.

So, the moral of this very long story (sorry about that) is that there is always a way and the current education system isn’t for everyone.

Prioritise your mental health and talk to someone. You will find your path; it just might not be what you had originally planned.

Have faith in your abilities and know that you are always learning.

And that you define yourself, how you treat others and act towards the world shows who you are.

Friends may come and go but hold onto the ones that treat you right and be comfortable in your own company.

Until next time,

Abby

Mental health resources:

Time to Change

Rethink

Young Minds

Mind

Helplines