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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Planning a gap year with help from CanGap: Brelan's Story

In today’s episode we invited the incredible Brelan, a CanGap alum who dedicated her gap year to self-growth, becoming financially savvy and going on some epic adventures! She was able to accomplish this (and much more!) by using the Gap Year Gameplan and leveraging the pillars, resources and expert support to make her gap year EPIC!

Tune in to hear all about Brelan’s exciting journey and why taking a gap year is truly a step in the right direction to grow, gain invaluable skills and make a lifetime of memories.

Topics Discussed

  • What compelled Brelan about CanGap and why she chose the Gap Year Gameplan Program.

  • Brelan’s top 3 gap year goals and how she was able to achieve them through the gameplan pillars.

  • The support and resources provided by CanGap which was instrumental in guiding Brelan through her year.

  • Brelan’s takeaways from her epic gap year.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year expert.

On today's episode, we have the incredible Brelan here. She is one of our gap year alum, she just completed her gap year and is headed off to school in mere days and she's going to be sharing a little bit of her story with us. How she has evolved as a person and how she made use of some of the resources that we have here at CanGap.

So welcome to the show.

Brelan - 00:36

Thank you.

Michelle Dittmer - 00:38

Yeah, we're so excited. Do you want to just give us a little bit of background? So tell us why did you take a gap year and kind of what did you get up on that year?

Brelan - 00:41

Yeah, for sure. So my motivation towards a gap year was obviously coming out of COVID and high school being online for two years, I didn't want to go into university like that.

And I didn’t want to jump into school into a random class kind of thing. I wanted to actually have time to think and process. I definitely did want to work and take some personal, some mental time. You know, just some self-care, a little bit of a break from studying because that's your whole life for 12 years and I wanted to travel.

So I decided to take a gap year and kind of pick my main goals of travel, working and just personal time and try and cover as much as I can.

And then found the Canadian Gap Year Association and that just guided my whole gap here.

So it was a lot easier than I thought it would be because I had all these supporters and this gap year gameplan laid out for me so it was good.

Michelle Dittmer - 01:51

That's awesome! So how did you come across the Canadian Gap Year Association? Was it you? Was it your parents? Was it a Google search? Where did that come from? And how did you know that it might be a really good fit for you?

Brelan - 02:02

So first off, I've always been interested in joining in on any kind of event activity, anything like that.

So my mom saw a notification about this program on Facebook, thought it would be kind of beneficial, so we checked it out, we went to a few of the Frosh week events and stuff like that.

Wasn't really 100% sure about it just because it's a big commitment it feels like signing up for something for your whole year. So I definitely took some time to consider it and realised that I can do as much as little as I want and it's fully self-guided.

You can do it on your own. You can do it in a group of people, which I loved so I decided to sign up for it and then after a little bit of time, realised that it was going to be the best way for me to organise my gap year and feel like I still accomplished something in that kind of textbook definition of doing something.

Michelle Dittmer - 03:03

Yeah, I love that you touched on some really important points about the game plan in what you discovered as you went along with it was that it gave you lots of freedom to still do the things that you wanted to do because that's why a lot of people take a gap year, because they've got an agenda.

They've got certain things they want to do. They wanna travel or they want to volunteer, they've gotta work. But it also gives a little bit of structure that allows you to set goals for yourself and see the progress that you make.

Because sometimes we don't realize how far we've come unless we take that intentional time and can measure it somehow and so I'm so glad that you, you brought that up and that you, you took the time because it can feel very overwhelming when you're trying to plan your gap year and you're like, wow, a year long commitment to something like, am I going to los myself is this gonna be is this gonna be like school again?

Like that's definitely not what you want, and not what we want for you either. It's just that kind of nice level of structure and support that's really there to help guide you to achieve whatever you want to achieve.

Brelan - 04:21

Yeah for sure and I mean, if you signed up and decide it's not for you, you don't have to do it. But all the resources are still there. All of the interviews, all of the little questionnaires, everything like that. Like every little detail that I found in the plan I used at some point even the extra videos to watch within the pillars I found beneficial for something else.

Michelle Dittmer - 04:44

Yeah, I think that just warms my heart because we put so much love into creating it.

So to know how useful it is and that the things that are in here aren't just relevant to your gap year. They are life skills. They are things that are going to help you when you go into school, when you go into the workforce, even just understanding who you are as a person, we're never really taught how to do that.

School is about your maths and your English and your sciences. But it doesn't tell you who you are and that's such a big part of like, becoming a grown up. I'm using air quotes there, and that transition out of being a kid into early adulthood is really knowing who you are and I think that's something that you embraced so much on this journey that was just so awesome to stand beside you and watch you discover all of those things about yourself. It was just really, really powerful.

Brelan - 05:42

It was definitely motivating for myself to see that I could actually do that by myself, right? And the gap year, it definitely within the game plan, it pointed out points that I didn't even think or take into consideration, right.

It was almost like guiding me throughout the year and bringing up questions I didn't even think I'd have to question in a good way about myself. So it definitely made me dig deep and learn more about myself in the most beneficial way.

Michelle Dittmer - 06:12

Oh, I love that so much! And what you said there about doing it on your own, and that's why we have two different kinds of models. We have the gap year game plan, which gives you that DIY, that solo adventurer, the hero of your own story. You get that freedom to do what you want.

And then we have the flip side of that, which is the accelerator program, which is for people who want that community and that more guided structural support that's there on kind of a weekly basis. That's gonna help but help keep you in line.

But there are people that gravitate to both sides of that and whether you want them more independence in the game plan, or you want them more support and structure?

In the accelerator program, the content is the same, the pillars are the same, but how you access that information really depends on who you are as a person.

And I think the fact that you knew that you wanted this independence and you were on this journey allowed you to really step into the game plan and use the tools that were most relevant to you.

Brelan - 07:20

And I definitely think having the option for both and not just you commit to one, that's the way you have to go with super beneficial because for me even self-care was always one that I had lots of questions about and it was hard to just figure that out on your own.

So I did go to those meetings and have you know one-on-one conversations with people within the gap year and stuff like that and it was so beneficial even doing our, we had like a group meeting where we all did like some kind of yoga session almost right and just different crazy things that I never would have signed up for outside of this and it was so beneficial, it was insane.

And then after that for the other pillars, I did them self-guided and I thought that was super beneficial as well. So getting to use both kinds of aspects of that and having the opportunity was great.

Michelle Dittmer - 08:16

I love it and it fits with all the other things you were doing, which is just so, so awesome because you do build that autonomy and that decision making and those skills by fitting it in around the other things that you do on your gap year.

So if you're to think about your gap year, what are some of the biggest takeaways that you noticed or some of the biggest areas of growth you saw in your life? And maybe did any of the activities in the game plan really help you in that process?

Brelan - 08:46

Yeah, so my three favourite pillars are the self-care pillar, the financial literacy and then the last one being the passion project were the three that made me feel like I had the most personal growth throughout my gap year and kind of resonated with me.

The self-care was definitely something that is always in the back of your mind and you kind of put it to the side until you have a breakdown and then you're like oh, maybe I should do some self-care.

So that definitely taught me to even if I don't feel like I need it, just do a little bit of self-care.

It takes 5 minutes out of your day but the result of it can be lasting for five days, right? It can be very beneficial for the week. So having that kind of layout in words, explaining how self-care works, how every little aspect of it and little detail of it adds up for big progress was definitely something that I'd like to see and have.

The financial literacy pillar. Money was always something that was definitely, it was a motivation for me through my gap year. I ended up working three jobs throughout my gap year and found it hard to keep track of it, all, right?

So to have that pillar to teach me how to budget and manage my money was great. It gave me confidence. I went and had meetings at banks by myself. It just gave me more confidence to actually know what I was getting into and knew what I was talking about, right?

Which is something that you're not necessarily taught in high school, how to go open your own bank account and stuff. See, I found that definitely a lot more help with the confidence there.

And then lastly was my passion project, which was led by the self-care and the financial literacy pillar. My passion project was this huge trip to the mountains, which is something that is super self-care and relaxing for me just to get away from home.

And I knew how to budget it, I stayed within my budget. I was actually below budget. I booked hotels. I figured out gas prices and everything like that, found the best deals with places. Got the most bang for my buck, which was something that my parents always did. Right.

You go on a family trip, it's done. You just show up and it's great. Everything's laid out for you. Whereas I had to plan and budget the whole trip, which these pillars I feel have really helped set me up for success with that trip for like I said, the most bang for my buck and not going and spending way more than I needed to.

Michelle Dittmer - 11:36

Yeah, I think those 3 examples are so great because they're talking about things that are really applicable. Like these aren't theoretical things that you're studying out of a textbook for the sake of passing a test. There are things that are gonna make your life easier.

And the way that all three of those kind of came together is really beautiful because understanding self-care and proactive self-care, not just when you're feeling like junk and you need to do something about it.

But that idea of identifying how to stay in balance rather than dealing with it after you're out of balance is something so important.

And then having that healthier sense of wellbeing allows you to be more confident and using the financial literacy pillar to be confident in opening a bank account and going in and talking to people who have knowledge about finances and then parlaying both of those things together for this big trip. Those are things that are just going to continue to help you as you go into university and as you go into life. Those are life skills that are not gonna just sit in a textbook anywhere.

Brelan - 12:49

As you said, it isn't just in high school, you learn, everyone learns the same thing, right?

Whereas all of the pillars are laid out very well to kind of fit everyone's different situation, right? It's very kind of, this is kind of like the surface stuff and then you pick what you kind of want to like, dig deep on, and it allows you to do that.

It's very customizable, which I appreciated because I was able to kind of change it and modify as my situations and workplaces and stuff change throughout my year.

Michelle Dittmer - 13:23

Yeah, nothing, nothing is cast in stone.

This is this is about your exploration and learning and discovering things about yourself and about the world and we just wanna be alongside to help you and give you the confidence that you need or kind of as we were talking before we started recording, but also give parents the reassurance that there are people out there in this kind of confusing gap year space that is going to provide that support.

And then guidance because your parents likely never took a gap year and so how do how do you actually feel supported and how do your parents feel confident in your decision? I think that's something that you were mentioning about your friends as well.

Brelan - 14:08

It's definitely refreshing for parents hear that you've kind of signed up for something. You're not just going into this probably gonna sleep in every day kind of thing, maybe go to work, right?

You have a commitment and they just don't know you can be there as little or as much as you want, right? But it's always there for you throughout the year.

I kind of went quiet for a few months throughout my gap year and just did stuff on my own, didn't really do that much, was just in my groove, and then a few months later just jumped right back into it and got on some calls and it was refreshing to know that it was still there.

Even though I wasn't there for a little bit.

Michelle Dittmer - 14:49

Yeah, yeah. It's so much different than high school where somebody is constantly chasing after you and dictating what you should be doing and when and that is not the goal of this.

If you, if you're, if you're doing well and you are flying on your own, go for it. But when you hit those roadblocks or when you lose motivation or you get bored or whatever, whatever that obstacle is, you can always come back to it and even things like the goal, setting the goals on your gap year keep changing as you grow.

Whether you've achieved them and you need to create new ones or the old ones don't fit anymore, you can always come back to all of the resources in the portal and do them as many times as you want and you get access to that for as long as you need, even beyond your gap year.

So if you feel lost when you're in second year university, you can go back to the kind of who am I Stuff and reevaluate who you are as you continue to grow and change as a person.

So if you had any advice for people considering a gap year or just starting their gap year, what would that advice look and sound like?

Brelan - 16:04

Definitely don't base it off of what people kind of show in the movies and stuff. That definitely in my mind was I'm going to travel and just live life and basically get to live on a beach every day kind of thing.

But also, don't let your decisions be persuaded by what your friends are doing. It's hard to say You know what, I'm going to commit to a gap year when all of your friends are going back to university right into school. Especially because it feels like that's the mainstream kind of line. You should be going that way.

Focus on you. Focus on what you feel is best for you at that moment. If it's a half gap year, great. But take the time to actually consider it. There's no rush. You have your whole life to go to school. University in high school, you have you do it when you're 16,17,18, right? Like it's that timeline.

University. You can go back to university at any point in your life. So one year out of your life is so little but can have such a big impact on the rest of your life, right? It's a refresher. If you jump right into school, it's hard to balance the adult life and the teenage life I found.

So a gap year really taught me how to still. Go out and have fun with my friends on the weekend. But no, you know what, it's all about that balance.

So if you're considering a gap here, I definitely find it beneficial. It's one year is one year out of your whole life that can have this huge impact.

If you're already committed to a gap year, then start getting excited because of the endless opportunities that you're going to have is insane.

Like, it's mind-blowing, especially when you're at the end of your gap year and you go and reflect on your whole gap year and you're like, wow, I actually covered a lot of ground. I did a lot.

So it's refreshing to see that too, with the Gap Year Association, to have it all laid out and have those badges and earn that award at the end and everything like that physical proof that you had a successful gap year, and if you feel better, then that's all that matters.

Michelle Dittmer - 18:22

I love it. You are so wise beyond your years, and I don't know if you entered into your gap year with that wisdom or if that has evolved, but I think, yeah, it evolved. And I love that you're bringing this newfound confidence in who you are and what you, excuse me, what you want to do with your life.

Like, I think that is so aspirational for people who are just starting out or for parents who are listening and saying I want my kids to have that confidence and have that experience.

It's so lovely to hear people at the end of their year because sometimes at the beginning when you're staring down at an empty calendar. It's really intimidating and frightening, but part of the job that we do is telling that full story and saying, yes, it's scary now at the beginning, but let's talk, let's listen to somebody at the end and, and this is where you are going to be and let's tap into the supports that exist to get you to that point.

Brelan - 19:26

And it definitely is. It's intimidating to think that you have a whole year, right? Like sometimes as a kid or a teenager in high school, you maybe get a weekend to yourself to plan, right?

Or your parents have planned something. Like, you have a whole year that you're in charge of planning. So definitely for me, I found like, take a step back, right?

Plan little things, plan with some big things, plan some goals, the gap year game plan helps lay that all out.

And if you get stuck in that. Wake up, go to work, come home, hang out. Kind of routine if that's not working for you. That's what I kind of got stuck in.

I went and started doing the pillars and those motivated me to actually kind of get out of that routine and try some new things.

I still continued working just as many hours, but with my time that I had off and after work, I spent a little bit differently and that to me was so beneficial in the sense that when you're an adult.

You can't just come home and have dinner made for you, right?

Like, you have to, actually, there's things to be done, so it definitely helps you time, manage and kind of figure out, OK, this is my day. What can I do to make the most of it?

Michelle Dittmer - 20:43

Risk free trial on life. That's what I call it. You get a chance to test it out and sometimes you're going to excel at things and sometimes you're going to totally bomb.

But you're gonna learn from it and then you're gonna try again and you'll be more successful the second time you give it a go.

Brelan - 21:00

And you will fail, definitely. But honestly, failure, it's just motivation. It just keeps you growing and growing, right?

So, and again, every single time I failed, I would go back to Jazz, be like, this happened, what do I do now?

And she be like, OK, well, let's just lay it out. And I was like, you know what to do?

Like, it gave me more confidence in myself, knowing that there's someone else to kind of show me some directions that I could take and then I could choose just to help me get back onto my feet.

So, which was so good.

Michelle Dittmer - 21:29

Yeah, sometimes you need somebody else to ground you and take away that initial panic and give you just your next step.

Sometimes you just need that next step you don't need the whole plan but what is the next step I need to take and then you can just get your footing again, feel comfortable and then move forward through whatever the challenge is presented.

So and I'm so glad Jazz was there for you for that. Awesome.

Any last pieces of advice or anything else you want to share before we sign off for our conversation today?

Brelan - 22:03

If you're considering a gap year, just do it. If it's even a if, it's a consideration on your mind.

Like I said, it's one year of your life, out of your whole life, that one year can be so beneficial and have big results for your whole life.

It's one year, so if you're considering it, don't waste the time that you might regret it. Just do it.

Michelle Dittmer - 22:28

I love it. Sometimes we hear life is short, but the reality is life is long too and there is space to pause and to breathe and to get proper perspective before jumping into the next thing for the sake of jumping into the next thing.

So I'm so grateful you jumped on our podcast today to share your story and your experience. We are so proud of you and so thrilled that you are stepping into the next phase of your life with so much confidence and certainty. And so many skills that you're gonna be able to apply for the rest of your life and we're so grateful for being part of that journey and we're just so excited for you in your next step.

So thanks for joining us on the podcast.

Brelan - 23:13

Thank you very much for having me. It's been amazing just throughout the whole gap year. I've loved having everyone's support and it was just great. It's been so beneficial and I've made connections for the rest of my life.

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