Take a Gap Year, Learn a New Language: Lessons from Man Booker & Malia

When Malia Obama announced that she was taking a “gap year” between high school and her first year in college, many adults (me included) wondered whether we were too old to take a gap year of our own.

How lovely would it be to take a year off and just reassess?

mbi2016-logo-rgb-pinkAfter the announcement of the Man Booker International prize winner yesterday, I’d like to not only take a gap year but perhaps spend it learning a foreign language.

That’s what prize-winner Deborah Smith did. At the age of 21 she decided she would learn to speak Korean. Smith grew up in the United Kingdom and had never learned a foreign language before then. She then started a career as a translator.

9.han_kang-the_vegetarian_4Seven years later she won the prize for 2016’s best translated novel. Smith translated Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian from Korean to English, and the two women took home the prize.

The Man Booker International Prize was re-imagined for 2016 and is now awarded to a book translated to English and is split between the author and translator. Smith and Kang were the first winners of the new prize.

How many times have you told yourself you’re too old to learn something new? That you’re past the point where you can change direction?

Sure, Smith is 28. Malia is 17.

They are most definitely not old, but we could certainly learn from them.

For most adults taking a year off (sans pay) is unrealistic, but how many vacation hours did you use this year? How many did you let expire? When was the last time you challenged yourself to try something new or to learn a new skill?

Sure, you may never win a Man Booker prize, but then again, maybe you will.

**Updated 5/17/16 at 4:30 p.m. ET: This post was updated. Previously it said Smith lived in South Korea, but on Twitter she says she has not lived there.

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Photo courtesy of The Man Booker Prizes.

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About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

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