Sabbatical Stories

Ivan Takes a Gap Year at 34

Ivan’s sabbatical – a gap year at 34 – helps him address a deep-seated addiction to being busy. His 52-week sabbatical allows him to fulfill his dream of learning Korean, and introduces him to new friends and culture.

A mid-thirties sabbatical

At 34, I decided to take a sabbatical and move to South Korea for one year – it saved my life!

At 34, I had already been working 8 years in international education – mainly language courses abroad. Having been an international student my whole life, I have a passion for breaking barriers of geography, language and culture through education.

However, during the pandemic, this was almost impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions and borders being closed. I had to make a decision – to find another industry or take a much needed break. I chose to take one gap year! I wanted to fulfill a dream of mine: learn Korean. So I applied to Pusan National University’s Korean language program and went on to learn a new language for the first time.

This was a very scary decision since I was using all my life savings and was leaving the workforce in my mid-thirties. The first three months felt like rehab almost, as I felt incredibly stressed about not working and adjusting to my “sabbatical life.”

After working more than 10 hours per day for 8 years, when I suddenly stopped I realized I had become addicted to being busy – I needed to go through a process of detox to learn how to relax and enjoy my life (outside of work).

The Sabbatical

During my sabbatical, I did everything I wanted to do – I finally had the time! I learned a new language – which was incredibly hard! I made amazing friends from every corner of the world, and met my best friend (a red-headed French Canadian PhD student taking a sabbatical, too), the first day out of quarantine. It is amazing how we can connect with people with different languages and cultures, and develop such a pure and beautiful friendship.

I started exercising and focusing more on my health. I went on backpacking, camping, yoga and hiking trips where I re-discovered the healing powers of nature. I also started therapy and did temple stay retreats to heal my childhood traumas and find tools to become a better version of myself. Most importantly, I learned that happiness does not come from money, physical beauty or possessions – it comes from within and striving to always move forward with a growth mindset!

Today I have returned to international education as the Director of Enrollment for a business school and I love my job even more. Why? Because I make time for myself and continue to nurish my mind and body with hobbies and exercise. Taking a sabbatical not only changed my life – it saved it!

List some activities you engaged in during your sabbatical:
Cultural activities, temple stay, cooking class, language class, expat networking events, backpacking, hiking, surfing, yoga, therapy, reading (lots of it), camping and making new friends.

What catalyzed your sabbatical?
Negative event – death of a loved one, health/burnout, job loss, etc.

How long was your sabbatical (in weeks)?

Did HOW you work change at all, post-sabbatical?
Committed to taking significantly more time off
(e.g. 4 day workweek, or summer’s off)

What kind of work did you return to?
Same company, different role

Describe any changes you made in your life post-sabbatical:

After my sabbatical, I found a work-life balance, reconnected with my life goals, rediscovered my passions and become a better version of myself.

How did your sabbatical experience change the way you thought about your employer?
Mainly it made me respect my own time more – not to work until burnout but to give myself time to live my life.

Why do you think others should (or shouldn’t) take sabbaticals? Are there occasions in life where it’s particularly helpful?

Any type of sabbatical (3, 6, 9, 12 months) has a healing power. Our life and minds are so cluttered that sometimes the best solution is to take a step back and do nothing – just be with yourself. Disconnect. There are infinite ways to do this. For me, going abroad is the best way to find yourself and learn from a new culture.

You can connect with Ivan La Rosa here.

Interested in more solo travel sabbaticals? You might like Suneil’s story.

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