My Experience Up Over – Shaan Johari Class of 2020

As you all may know, I’ve been taking a gap year working at a school called Campbell College in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Apart from the abnormally cold weather along with the strong Belfast accents, settling into my new town was made easy and welcoming by the friendly staff. Living with two Kiwis (from Palmerston North and Masterton) and a South African (from Durban) plus free meals that aren’t sugar-free and free accommodation isn’t a bad gig if you ask me! As we adjusted into our daily routine we soon had the ins and outs of the school painted into our memory. I am currently working at the junior school, tutoring Maths and English while also coaching rugby and football to primary aged children. I also supervise senior boarders during the weekend. Having the opportunity to work abroad in an unfamiliar environment has allowed me to develop some very important skills such as adaptability, leadership, communication, problem-solving and flexibility which will help tremendously as I transition into university and the next stage of my life. Working here has also meant that I’ve been able to spend valuable time with my brother in London and also accumulate enough cash to travel, one of the main reasons for taking a gap year.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel around many parts of the world while I’ve been here. Taking part in new experiences while exploring unique cultures and architecture from Edinburgh to Marrakech. I recently embarked on a two-month journey from Greece to Morocco, following the Mediterranean Coast the whole way around with nothing but one small bag full of clothes, a camera and Liam for company.

Since I’ve been back, many people have asked what my favourite place was that I visited, but I still don’t have an answer. I tell them that every place is so unique that they simply can’t be compared. I loved Santorini for the beautiful white buildings with blue ceilings that tightly hugged the face of the cliff while golden sunsets cast unbelievable colours over a vast body of water. I loved Florence for its stunning masterpieces of ancient Greek and Roman styles, Gothic architecture and Renaissance styles including the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen. Rome offered a rich historical background while romance filled the canals of Venice. I’ll never forget the friends and memories created in Split and its crystal blue water that glistened as if it were made of diamonds. Nice had an uplifting and peaceful atmosphere that surrounded it while the streets of Marrakech were bustling with live performances, music and street food trolleys. Barcelona had some of the most unique architecture I’ve ever seen, with pieces from Antoni Gaudí dotted all around the city. Each place so unique in its own intriguing way.

Liam and I shared many unforgettable experiences together which tightened our friendship while broadening our knowledge of the world. From getting caught in a sandstorm while riding a camel through the pitch black Sahara Desert to almost getting stuck in Fes due to not booking the bus early enough. I’ve learned a few lessons that have changed the way I view life and I wanted to share my top 7 with you.

Never set expectations

Setting expectations for anything only sets you up for failure. If you experience a really good day and set an expectation for the next day to be just as good, you’re only going to be disappointed if it isn’t, and will never feel satisfied. Every day you should wake up with a fresh mind and no expectations, that way whatever happens won’t be compared with anything else and will lead to a more positive experience. The day is now a blank page and you can fill it with whatever you want which leads to the next thing I’ve learnt...

Go with the flow (take risks)

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt on this trip is to be spontaneous. We’re only human, we don’t have much time in this world so why would you waste it? You can either sit around playing with your thumb and be afraid of rejection or suck it up and go for it. Remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Rejection is just a mental barrier that your brain puts up inside your head, but once you get past that barrier you learn to become much more confident in yourself. For me personally, getting past this mental barrier has led to creating some life-long mates, memories and taken me to places I would never have imagined I’d end up at. Trust in yourself and follow your gut.

Live in the moment

I know it’s an obvious one but every so often it’s good to completely shut off your phone, disconnect your email and truly soak in the moment and everything that’s surrounding you. Appreciate where you are, what you have, where you’ve come from and all the people in your life that make you happy. Take a brief moment to self-reflect and think about your goals and aspirations. Stop looking through that screen so often and use your eyes. A cool picture is worth a thousand words but the memories are priceless.

Regression to the mean

Definition: The phenomenon that arises if a random variable is extreme on its first measurement but closer to the mean or average on its second measurement and if it’s extreme on its second measurement but close set to the average on its first.

I’m going to be honest with you, this trip hasn’t just been non-stop highs. There’s been times where I’ve just felt like lying in my hotel bed and doing nothing the whole day. It’s not going to be all butterflies and rainbows, there’s a lot of stress involved and that’s where regression to the mean comes in. Once you hit a high, (e.g. meeting all these cool new people), there’s always got to be a low to balance it out, (e.g. leaving all of the amazing people you just met to go to a new place), therefore bouncing back to the mean again. It’s inevitable that these lows are going to happen but it’s what you decide to do with these thoughts that make all the difference. You can either dwell on it and let your emotions control you as you overthink your situation or you can choose to accept the lows and let them happen. Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.

Don’t take the small things in life for granted

Every single day we take things for granted and being on a tight budget and experiencing lower class economies has given me a whole new perspective on things. The food we eat, clean clothes on our backs every day, the company of our friends and family. These are all things that you may not realise you loved so much until it’s taken away from you. Travelling to places like Fes in Morocco has also changed my perspective on the way I view life. The moment we arrived I watched out the taxi window as boys around my age sat on the ground of a filthy footpath, (one with a missing leg), and smoked while they played card games. Walking through the Medina I could see displays of poverty everywhere. The food was dirt cheap and the people would be super happy if you gave them as little as 10¢. Families would have to hustle like crazy to make enough money to feed themselves. Old men and young children sat on the side of the footpath and tried their hardest to get you to buy their stuff, resorting to try to sell you drugs every time. I’ve learnt over my travels that it’s literally a dice roll. Anyone of us could have been born in a place like that and raised up to know no better than them. We’re just super lucky that our dice happened to land on where we are now, so never take it for granted.

Aim for seven

Each day that we live can be graded on a scale of 1-10. What determines its rating depends on what you accomplished, cool things you did, friends you made etc... Aiming for 7 is very closely related to regression to the mean. A day rated 7 is the ideal spot to be in or ‘mean.’ There’s room for improvement but still good overall. If for example you have an amazing day filled with success, unreal experiences and fun and end the day at a 10, there is no room for improvement tomorrow, and thus you are forced to return to the mean. No one has 10/10 days all the time, it’s just not possible. Understand and be happy when there’s some bad with the good. It’s better in the long run to hit consecutive 7’s than average a 4 with occasional peaks.

People > Places

It’s the people you’re with that have a significant influence on your thoughts of the place you’re at. You could be in the best place in the world but still somehow have a bad time if you’re surrounded by the wrong crowd. Vice versa, you could be in a boring place but still have an absolute blast as long as you’re around positive, like-minded people who will support you and not drag you down. This links back to what I was talking about earlier about taking risks and not being afraid of rejection. Let me give you an example, talking to some random people on the beach led to making some really good friends. Sooner or later we were leaving our average hostel in Malaga to go and stay with one of them in their beautiful holiday home in Marbella. I think that it’s pretty fair to say that I now have friends all around the world that I could stay with if I visited that country and it’s all thanks to overcoming that fear of rejection. I’m telling you now, wherever you go, don’t be afraid. Approach random strangers because most of the time they’re exactly like you, just looking to make some friends and have fun. I guarantee it will make your visit to the place ×10 better.

Reflecting back, I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to travel the world and all the experiences and knowledge that I gained while doing so. I can definitely say that this has been a life-changing trip and I hope that you can also take something away with you from my findings. Never be afraid to experience new things and always be up for an adventure.


Shaan Johari

Shaan is part of the SEF Class of 2020. Shaan, along with Liam Ottley and Harrison Dudley-Rode, has undertaken a Gap Year in the Northern Hemisphere. He plans to return to Auckland and commence his degree in Architecture at the University of Auckland in 2020.