I am at a careers fair at a college in London to represent a travel company I work for. It’s aimed at students about to finish their A-Levels (17-18 years old) who now face a choice about their future:
Get a job, go to university, do an apprenticeship or take a gap year.
I am here to inflame their imaginations and their want of travel, their desire to see the world whether that be as a gap year or volunteering abroad or whatever.
I am excited for them. I am enthusiastic and I am ready to answer their questions about the where, why, how and who of travelling. I feel I am prepared, I feel ready.
I also feel slightly disheartened that only seven people in the last hour and a half have felt the inclination to find out more. I can’t understand it, my colleague and I are smiling. We’ve got brochures. Look, that one’s even got a picture of a zebra on it. It’s in Africa. Don’t these people want to find out how they can go and see a zebra in Africa?
Hang on, there’s movement in our direction. Yes, this guy is coming over. This is a man who knows what he wants. This is a man who does want to see a zebra in Africa.
“Alright?”, he opens with. Followed by, “what’s this all about then?”
“Well,” I begin, “we’re here to talk with you about seeing the world, taking a gap year, broadening your outlook on life and getting something unique on your CV.”
“What? What’s a gap year? Why would I want to do that? What’s the point?”
What madness is this? Is the young man serious? He’s frowning. Which means he’s not joking. He is serious. I am confused and I suddenly feel light-headed. Perhaps I misunderstood the question. I seek reassurance.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Why bother?”, he shrugs and does that thing with his mouth when you don’t care about something that looks like an upside down smile. I’m bewildered but manage to keep my cool.
“Well, it’s a wonderful thing to do. You will see things you’ve never seen before; do things you’ve never done; learn things about yourself and others that could change the way you see the world and change the way you see life!”
I realise I have become animated, which was not my intention at all. The frown lines on his forehead have deepened. I’ve confused him.
I’ve exhausted my sales pitch so I use the other weapon in my armoury. Silently, I point to the zebra.
He squints at it for a few seconds and I think I’ve gotten through to him. This is the breakthrough moment, the penny will now drop, and when he looks back on his lengthy career as a globetrotter, he will forever remember me as the catalyst, the place where it all began.
“Alright,” I state and then doing my utmost not to sound sarcastic, “well, you’ve clearly thought about it from all angles and made every
consideration in reaching your conclusion. If you do change your mind, you know where we are.”
He looks up at me and my fake smile. He fake smiles back.
He disappears into the huddle of people that have gathered around a table full of free sausage rolls and sandwiches.
I sit down in an attempt to take stock of what has just happened. I make eye contact with two tall girls who are now on their way over.
“What are you doing here then?”, they inquire.
Oh God. There’s more of them.