Normally, the gap year is reserved for the young, fresh out of high school, ready to conquer the world. But like youth, the gap year really is wasted on the young.
For starters, at that age you have very limited means. This means you have to work a shitty job in a shitty café – or worse – to fund your fun year out. At 48, I have accumulated a certain amount of wealth from many years of working really hard and living quite frugally, as well as an amount of long service leave I could use sensibly for the purpose. I compare this with the time when I as a 16 year old also took a gap year to attend an English language course at Cardiff University for three months. I really had very limited means and no steady income. I am sure Cardiff would have been much more fun with dosh.
The rest of the year I worked in a publishing house, learning the skills of really fast touch typing, using a repro camera and designing books the old fashioned way with scrolls of typeset, images, skalpels and wax, paper page by paper page on a light table, before the arrival of desktop publishing. I always knew I needed an education: the gap year provided no epiphany, though I toyed with the idea of going to technical college to become a graphic designer the old way. Thankfully, I ended up studying informatics and communications at university instead.
If a gap year is about finding out what you want to do with the rest of your life, then my first gap year proved a failure. Never did I anticipate that 10 years later, I would be a public servant working with legal policy in the Queensland public service, commencing studying law because it would be a more relevant qualification.
So I tried again. Fuelled by a deep cleft in my self-perception as a Dane and an Australian, I took a gap year at the age of 48. I missed my father land, my mother tongue and my family. I missed meeting people who knew exactly what I spoke about when I mentioned Kaj and Andrea, Olsen Banden, stegt flæsk med persille sovs, TV-2 and Anker Jørgensen, all cultural phenomena of my childhood. I wanted a foot on the ground in my mother country. So my darling husband and I set off to stay in a flat just outside the lakes in central Copenhagen. For a year.
Now that we are coming to the end of that year, people ask me if I got out of it what I expected, what I planned.
1. I spent time with my family, both my immediate family and most of the surviving extended one. Being used to small family gatherings in Brisbane, it was refreshing to be with my very large Danish family. You guys mean a lot to me.
2. I spent time with friends, dear childhood friends from school, housemates and university friends, even Danish friends I have met in Brisbane, who have returned to Denmark. Thanks for hanging on for all this time.
3. I applied for the return of my Danish citizenship, though I have not heard back from them just yet. I was hoping to travel out of Denmark, beetroot coloured pass port in hand. And return freely to my mother country without having to rely on my British citizen husband for family reunification. In my own country.
4. I became a yogi, practicing almost daily at Street Yoga here on Nørrebro. Having time to prioritise my body, heart and mind through yoga practice has helped me establish inner peace.
5. I immersed myself in Danish cultural experiences. Copenhagen has a vibrant cultural life with so much to offer. Festivals and street parties, gallery openings and exhibitions, museums and castles, performance art and author talks, music and choir events. And on top great Danish drama on tv and brilliant Danish radio on P1.
6. I followed the change of the seasons. Copenhagen also has a surprising amount of nature at its core, parks and gardens, the lakes and the harbour. From crisp winter to blossoming spring over not-so-warm-yet-deep-green summer filled with long, light nights to auburn autumn with shorter days and cold. I watched the swan eggs hack with adorable ugly ducklings and the parents proudly swimming them in line until the only way to spot they were from this season was their still-brown feathers.
7. I now know Copenhagen like my own comfortable pocket. It has become my city through walking the cobbled streets and smooth plazas, marvelling at the architecture and fountains, the historic sites and the fresh harbour development, the bridges across the canal, including Olaf Eliason’s Circle Bridge.
8. I cycled like a native. In Copenhagen I avoided the rush hour and the busiest cycle paths. In Ebeltoft we lost ourselves across the landscape, over Mols Bjerge.
9. I attended seminars and conferences relevant to my field of work as a public servant in a culture agency, about culture funding, design, literature, innovation in the public service, the impact of the digitally fuelled sharing economy. I have met with my colleagues at the Danish culture agency.
10. I did not get a job – I did apply for a couple, but suspect my overseas experience of 25 years counts as nothing in this country. I also found myself resenting having to work for someone else, when I could spend the time immersed in culture and writing for myself.
11. I have written more than I expected. Not just this blog, but also fiction. I have submitted to countless competitions without being shortlisted, never mind long listed. Through the creative process I have learnt a lot about myself, the world and the nature of language doing it. Most of all I have learnt how much I enjoy writing, reviewing, reading, learning. I write because I have to. I say to myself: I am a writer.
Soon I will launch my writers website, so stay tuned.
With a few more weeks before I get to the other side of the gap, it is safe to say that I achieved what I set out to. Time will tell how my gap year will affect the rest of my life.