Overseas Gap Years and Working Holidays in the UK and Japan: Insights from a Comparative Approach

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:04 PM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Lynley ALDRIDGE , University of Leeds, United Kingdom
The overseas "gap year" has emerged recently in Japan as a topical issue. In the UK, the benefits of "structured" and "constructive" gap years for education and employment are often emphasised in government, employer, university, provider and media discourses.  In Japan in recent years, a number of government committees, employer stakeholders, and universities have drawn on this UK example, and advocated the promotion of such gap years. A tension has, however, been identified between discourses about the benefits of international mobility on the one hand, and its possible negative consequences in Japan on the other. 

Building on this, my doctoral research involves comparative analysis of discourses about the "gap year" and "working holiday" in the UK and Japan; qualitative interviews with former working holidaymakers, careers advisers and employers; and existing quantitative datasets. The comparative perspective allows an explicit consideration of the influence of socio-cultural factors on the motivations, experiences, perceptions and outcomes of contemporary forms of youth mobility. More broadly, I am interested in how young people are enjoined to, and aspire to, develop their selves in each context.

In this paper, I highlight how the comparative approach has strengthened the research and facilitated a more rigorous approach to analysis. First, it has required me to explore and specify more precisely the characteristics of working holidaymakers and their positioning within each socio-cultural context.  Second, it encouraged a focus not on unelaborated generalities about "cultural" differences, but on specific factors (e.g., recruitment practices) that may be associated with differences in each context. Third, the research design allowed the identification of important factors in societal discourses in each context, to be used as sensitising concepts for interviews across contexts. I illustrate these arguments by using preliminary data from interviews conducted in both the UK and Japan.