Dear Mrs J,
I am in year 13 and have pretty much finished school now. I didn’t want to go to uni and had planned to go travelling later this year. I wanted to spend the summer saving and go sometime in December. Now all of that is not looking likely I don’t know what to do.
I don’t think there’s much chance of me getting a good job on the island and I don’t want to stay in education any longer. I don’t want to commit to something long term and then things return to normal but I also don’t want to be waiting around for something to change when we don’t know how long this is going to go on for.
I was wondering what advice you would give to someone on my situation because I know a lot of my friends are also unsure on what to do now, even the ones who got into uni and were planning on going in September.
Thank you so much for writing in – I think a lot of people will be feeling a bit like you are right now… confused about the future, concerned about their plans, and wondering when “the new normal” will start.
The end of Year 13 is momentous. You are emerging from everything being laid out for you: you have been in full time education, with all the rules and structure that brings with it, for around 14 years. It can be very strange to have freedom from that; you will have been working hard for your A-level exams, which are now not happening, so you may be feeling a curious mixture of emotions…maybe a combination of relief and anxiety? Going through this weird lockdown will have triggered a range of reactions too – it’s not something that any of us has ever experienced.
You have clearly done some thinking about what the next couple of years might hold for you. As I read this, the one thing that jumped out at me is that you have time – you really do… lots of time… so don’t worry! You now have the freedom to make your own choices and to carve out your own path – trust me, we old farts who are weighed down by mortgages and jobs and responsibilities are all properly jealous!!
At 18, the natural thing is to want to shake off the shackles of school and home, and spread your wings – some do it by leaving the island for uni, some do it by travelling, some by going out to work and living independently. Whatever you choose, you will have countless incredible experiences which will stay with you, and make you resilient in the future.
You don’t mention your parents and wider family, so I can only assume that they are broadly supportive of your plans: if they had dreams of you going to uni, you might have gone through some pretty heavy discussions at home about your future. Again, my advice is not to worry unduly about that: this is a good time for you to go “off piste” if you have the money and you feel ready. It’s much harder to go travelling when you are older and more settled (trust me, I know – I spent 6 months travelling in Australia and the Far East in my late 20s, and it was quite tough in some ways, but that is another story for another time).
If I were you, I would use this time to do some real planning and a lot of dreaming: it’s such a luxury to be able to start with a blank sheet of paper in front of you. Do lots of research about where you want to travel – how easy is it to get visas? Can you work or volunteer once you get there? Do you have family there who can put you up for the first week and show you the ropes? Do you see yourself earning money while away, or just exploring and chilling on a Thai beach? Buy a couple of Rough Guides from Amazon, start reading and start planning your route. It won’t always be Insta-worthy Full Moon parties, so talk to other people who have been where you want to go; research via the Foreign & Commonwealth Office about whether places are safe (I don’t mean Covid – I mean kidnaps and drug wars). This means that when travel becomes possible, you will be on the inside track and ready to make your move.
In the interim, you need to get a job and earn enough to pay for your airline tickets and a whole load of slush funds. If you don’t already have a job, then register with a few recruitment agencies and ask about temporary jobs; call them, or email them, as they will be working remotely. They can also give you advice about how to put a CV together (given you don’t have much work experience) and how best to market yourself to an employer. None of that will be wasted, whatever you decide to do: it will give you confidence at the very least and, at best, help you to make good connections for when/if you return to the island to work. It might not be what you want to do long-term, but there seem to be quite a few jobs around at the moment – during this crisis, places like Tesco, M&S and Shoprite have been advertising for staff. It will bring in the money, and will prove to any future employer that you are hardworking and reliable – frankly, in some ways, that’s more important than the degree that some of your mates will get.
You may be feeling a bit rudderless, Anon, and like you are drifting: just use this time to do the things you need to make your dreams come to fruition. Choose your path, plan a few steps on it; ensure you have done your homework and have earned some money, then make it happen.
Planes *will* fly again, and you can be on one of them: what a wonderful adventure you have in front of you! Be patient, take the best care, and enjoy every moment.
Lots of love,
Mrs J xoxo