I leaned against the kitchen counter and waited.
Finally, it was the onions’ turn. My irrational courage decided that it was perfect timing.
“Ma, something I want to tell you…”
She looked up from her chopping board; she didn’t say anything.
“I want to take a gap year,” I blurted.
Silence slipped in like a bolt.
Ma was as expressionless as a leaf.
After a while, she uttered an “uh-huh” and went back to her onions.
My thoughts were racing. What was that reaction? Does she even know what a gap year is? Is she processing it? Should I give her time? Oh no, she’s probably upset. Or Is it the onions? C’mon! Will she say something more, or should I–
“Are you running off to join the circus?” she finally remarked.
“Well, it may be a good idea if I continued my gym-tots programme, but you know –” Ma put down her chef’s knife, folded her arms, and gave me the side-eye.
I was simply complementing her humour.
“Of course not! I just thought I want to take a break and, you know, figure out what I want to study at University.” I shrugged.
“Weren’t you keen on that Business Administration programme? You were even talking about taking a double degree, combining business studies with computing… analytics or something?”
I was waiting for her voice to raise an octave or to see her start gesturing, but Ma was calm. Ma’s the CEO of our family.
“What are your plans?” she asked, in her serious CEO tone.
“Well, I thought I’d wanted to pursue Business studies, and I’m pretty good in science and numbers, so analytics is probably the way to go. But in the last year, I have taken a keen interest in Food Science…” I took a nervous gulp of water and went on telling her how I could see myself dabbling in the nutrition and scientific aspects of food, what sparked my interest in food sources, their diversities in manufacture, handling, and regulations, etc. Trying to show that I had put serious thoughts into this.
“I think it will be meaningful to be able to work on what is essential to our survival…. And Ma, remember how you will always remind us of the starving children in Africa when we don’t finish our food? What if I can put my knowledge and skills to good use and be part of this planet’s bigger solutions to reduce hunger and malnutrition?”
Good move, I thought to myself. Making my point relatable to Ma. I’m pretty good at this. Wait, maybe I should consider Communications or Journalism. Help, I don’t know now! Ok, focus.
My nerves were on edge. I took a deep breath of the pungent spice odour to compose myself. Ma had resumed her deft knife work on the onions, and the chicken surgery was up next.
“There’s an internship opening with a plant-based meat manufacturer in Singapore. I would like to apply. I believe I can learn something about the industry on-the-job, and I may come out of it with a better idea if I should pursue a degree in Food Science. I’m just not comfortable diving head-on into a course of study that I’m not so sure about. The gap between a general Business program and a niche Food Science specialisation is real.”
“And Ma… I want to have the chance to explore and evaluate my options, and to do so with some breathing space. I want to do things like catching up on life, my leathercraft and kayaking too. I feel that I’ve been kind of missing out, you know?
“How long have you been considering this?” She wiped her hands on the apron and turned to look at me.
“My best friend Lisa is also considering to take a gap year. We can do it together and support each other. It’s going to be fun! We’ve been discussing it for a few weeks now.”
Ma pondered for a while – either thinking of what to say to me or trying to remember if she’d got all the ingredients on the table. Then, giving me her full attention, she said, “I don’t know much about this gap year concept. Heard a bit about it. But–” she fumbled for the right words “–what I do know is that you don’t need to conform to anyone’s ‘idea’ of a gap year.
“It’s about what feels right for you.” She looked me right in the eye.
“All decisions require sacrifice. You may sacrifice what you view as freedom if you take the plunge into an immediate academic year. At the same time, are you prepared to face the self-doubts and social pressures should you decide to postpone your studies?
“Every turn has its pains and gains. It’s good that you want to get some work experience in. But don’t forget that you can also intern as an undergraduate. Now, advocating the other side of the story, schools will always be there for you to return. If you feel that you will fall behind as a result of your break, truths are only as real as you make them.
“There’s a time for everything, and you make your schedule. As long as you strive to be productive and continue to learn every step of the way, whether you do that in an academic, economic, or social environment, who can fault you for how you choose to spend your time?
“Choice of degree program. Gap year or not. How will you keep up the momentum throughout your meaningful ‘vacation’? The considerations are infinite. I can only hope that you trust yourself and be decisive in your endeavours.”
My thoughts drifted away in the clanking and sizzles in the kitchen before she interrupted, “Also, this plant-based meat thing that you’re interested in, you’re not planning on becoming vegetarian, are you? Please tell me in advance if you do – because if you don’t know already, it’s curry chicken for dinner tonight.”