Kassidy Tran: Reimagining the gap year

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18 minute read


Epsa: [00:02:36] We all deserve a break more than that month or two we would gift ourselves after senior year. But talking about a longer break, one that’s really enriched her experience, today on the podcast, we have a really special guest. Her name is Kassidy Tran. Kassidy also went to Cal Poly SLO with both Anjana and I and was heavily involved on campus and definitely left a positive mark through her involvement with being a marketing mentor for the College of Business, working for Cal Poly ASI, running the Victoria’s Secret Pink Campus Ambassador program for two years, and she also interned for Uber. So it’s safe to say Kassidy was just an overall stud in college. But on top of that, she also just finished her gap year abroad. So we’re really excited to chat with Kassidy and learn all about what led to that experience, her growth from traveling abroad, and just her take on how we should all reimagine what post grad experiences should be like. So with that, we’re super stoked to chat with Kassidy, and we hope you all enjoy the conversation as much as we did. [00:03:38][61.8]

Kassidy: [00:03:39] Yeah. Wow. You’re really hyping me up there, I think. [00:03:42][3.0]

Speaker 1: [00:03:43] Oh, of course. I mean, I’m always down to hype people up, especially right now. I think we all could use a little boost. But Kassidy, with all those accomplishments under your belt, where exactly was your head at at the end of your senior year when you were about to embark on what’s meant to be postgrad life? [00:04:00][17.6]

Speaker 4: [00:04:01] Yeah, so like most college graduates, I wanted to get a job after my senior year. The goal was to move to San Francisco and work in tech, doing marketing, merchandizing or recruiting. However, all this sort of changed during my graduation senior trip. So a little bit of back story. Right after I graduated, I went to Bali, Indonesia, with my best friends from college to celebrate graduating. And when we were there, we stayed in a bunch of hostels. We kept meeting people who were solo traveling and traveling for an extended amount of time, like six months, ten months or even years on end. And I thought this was a really interesting concept. I’ve never met anyone who’s traveled alone or for that long, and I was just completely fascinated by that. So fast forward to the end of my two week trip. I kind of realized I wasn’t ready to go home at all. I was really inspired again by these fellow travelers that we met. And because I didn’t have any sort of real responsibility waiting for me back at home, I spontaneously skipped my flight home and decided to solo travel throughout Southeast Asia. I had like full intention to apply to jobs and start up the whole process again when I got back. But that sort of took the back seat as my passion for traveling and exploring just kind of took off. And after that trip is when I decided I wanted to take some more time off and to travel more. So since then, I’ve been all throughout Southeast Asia, Europe, and I even got to live in England for a bit. So, yeah, that’s kind of my long winded answer of where my head was at the end of my senior year and how it all sort of changed. [00:05:40][98.3]

Anjana: [00:05:41] What was I mean, was there any, like, event while you were on your senior trip that kind of just spurred that, like you were like, oh, this one thing that really made me realize I’m not ready to go back home. [00:05:52][11.6]

Speaker 4: [00:05:54] To be completely transparent and at the end of my senior year, I was kind of going through an identity crisis or like a quarterlife crisis, call it what you want, but it was like a mix of this chapter school closing and then diving into this new chapter of adulthood and the unknown. And then that all mixed with me just getting out of a six year relationship right before graduation, sort of just left my head spinning. I had no idea what I wanted to do, let alone, you know, how to be single or how to think for just myself. And so that was what was kind of going on in the background before my trip. But I think what spurred all of this during my trip was the traveling lifestyle in itself and how it was so unplanned and really random and how when you wake up, you have no idea what the day would entail, but it would always be incredible. I never, like, really had the opportunity to live very spontaneously while I was in college. You know, just because you have to always plan for the next step. And deep down, I am not a planning or like make a plan type of person at all. I’m very much a person that just goes with the flow and makes very last minute decisions. So it felt so good to be in like a environment that kind of promoted that. And I’d say like that is what sparked my love for traveling and what motivated me to continue to do that. [00:07:19][85.1]

Epsa: [00:07:21] So you said you like a lot while you were traveling abroad with friends, you said you met a lot of solo travelers. Was there something that stuck out to you about those solo travelers, like any niche personality traits that you were like, oh, how fun would it be to be like them? [00:07:36][15.4]

Kassidy: [00:07:38] Yeah, that’s actually a funny question, because I talk about this a lot with my friends and the people that I’ve met were always like when you go traveling, you always meet very like minded people. People are very like or at least people that I met there are very spontaneous, really adventurous. We’re quick to say yes to many things. And like that is the type of person that I’ve always aspired to be. And like being surrounded by people like that really inspired me. But yeah, everyone was really, really open minded. You never ran into, like, judgment, whereas I feel like in college it was really easy to hide what you were feeling or like have to, like, suppress your judgments on other people because there’s like a sort of like lifestyle you’re supposed to live or like talk about whatever. [00:08:28][49.9]

Epsa: [00:08:29] Like a facade you have to hold. [00:08:29][0.0]

Kassidy: [00:08:29] Exactly. Exactly. But that’s kind of like all thrown out the window. No one really cares about, like your background. If you have a college degree, if you’re working somewhere, they just want to get to know you as a person. And if you get along to continue hanging out. And that was definitely like a big lesson that I took away from that experience. I feel like I’m very much less into this idea of wanting to hang out with people with a 4.0 GPA or like that work at the best companies. You know, it’s like if I like you as a person, I like you and we should be friends. Like, what’s the point of not being friends with someone just because they don’t fit your stereotypical, mold as what your friends at home are like. [00:09:13][44.5]

Anjana: [00:09:14] Speaking of kind of the judgment that you felt in the College of Business and in Cal Poly, I’m sure we I mean, I’m just speaking for myself and Epsa probably, but I totally got that. When you decided to take this course of action of not following, you know, like the job straight out of graduation, like basically not the typical career path. Did you have any fears or anxiety about being judged or like what other people might think and how did you handle that, if so? [00:09:44][30.4]

Kassidy: [00:09:45] So definitely I feel like, [the Orfalea College of Business] has this really… you feel really pressured when you’re at Cal Poly, especially in the College of Business, everyone has these amazing internships or jobs lined up once they graduate. And it’s really intimidating if you don’t have that. And I feel like the majority of people that are in that position feel very alone because no one is really speaking about that. And so, of course, taking this course of action, that was so I guess, quote unquote, unconventional, felt very scary. And I felt very alone in it because honestly, I didn’t know anyone else that was like taking a gap year or, you know, just taking time off before they started working. But it’s definitely more common than we think. And that’s something that I wish I knew when I decided to take this take this time off, because I was really hesitant. I was scared that I was going to be unmarketable to companies after this year off or I was scared of what people would think like,”Oh, that’s so stupid, she’s taking time off when she could be making money or advancing herself and her career.” It’s still something that I feel like I’m struggling with. But I definitely care less now because now I know everyone’s like in their own head. They’re so focused on their work, made me realize that, you know, what I do doesn’t really matter or impact other people whatsoever. So to do what makes me happy and try to care less about what people think, that was like just an overarching lesson that I’ve learned in this past year, not just due to my gap year, but I guess it’s just like something that I learned with time, like being out of college as well. [00:11:28][103.1]

Epsa: [00:11:29] No, that’s a great point. I think in the grand scheme of things, it’s just us. Like we’re the only people internally that matter. And I feel like in college you spend so much time thinking about what other people think about our own course of action that we never think, well, do I like what I’m doing? Is this making me happy, or am I just fitting this mold? [00:11:49][20.7]

Kassidy: [00:11:50] Yeah, it’s reassuring to know that you guys kind of felt the same way. I wasn’t sure if it was like I was just feeling alone. So I’m projecting this thought onto like the general college population at Cal Poly. But it’s good to know that you guys can see that and feel the same way. [00:12:06][15.4]

Anjana: [00:12:06] Other than, like, your own feelings about it. Did any of your friends or family express any like. [00:12:11][5.3]

Epsa: [00:12:12] Yeah, what did your parents think? [00:12:13][0.4]

Anjana: [00:12:14] What were your parents thinking? Were they like, “Why are you doing this?” [00:12:17][2.6]

Kassidy: [00:12:18] Yeah. My parents were definitely shocked by hearing me, like wanting to do this because I feel like in college I was so on the track to getting a full time job right after I graduate and it just kind of came out of left field to them. And also they’re immigrants. They immigrated to America, so you know, me and my brother could have a better life and they felt like I was kind of throwing my opportunity at getting a full time job and being financially independent away, because when they were my age, this is something that couldn’t even be an option. And I think it was just like this cultural difference and we just didn’t see eye to eye on this. But eventually they came around and they understood that this is what they worked so hard for. They realized that, you know, them working so hard and not allowing them to have this opportunity created this opportunity for their child. And yeah, we had a lot of battles about, you know, me taking time off. But eventually, like I said, they came around and it was good. They definitely support my travels now, especially because they’ve seen how much it’s impacted me and how much it’s changed me for the better. And now we’re just like both on the same side, same team, like rooting for me to somehow figure out how to get a job during COVID now. My friends, they were all really supportive about it and they all really love traveling as well. And so they wish they could have been in the same position so we could get it together. [00:13:52][94.0]

Anjana: [00:13:53] Kas I feel like that’s one of the most like brave part of doing something like that you did, because it’s very hard, especially coming from immigrant families to completely just say like, I’m not going to be doing a job right after college, and I need you to be OK with that. And so let’s say, like for our listeners who kind of want to know how you, like, broach that subject to your parents, like, how did you convince them eventually? Like, what did you say? [00:14:21][28.0]

Kassidy: [00:14:24] Yeah. Honestly, I feel like my relationship with my parents is quite different. I’m the first child and I’m very independent in comparison to my brother. And so all throughout my life, like, I would just say, “Hey, I’m doing this.” And they’d just kind of be like mmm, OK. And that was kind of like how it usually was done. So I was kind of expecting that response from my parents, and I know that’s like totally absurd and like not conventional whatsoever. But I was just like, why are you getting mad at me about, like, wanting to take time off? Like, I didn’t really understand why they were so worried. So I guess I just really had to reason with them and tell them, like, hey, it’s not like I’m never going to go to work, like this is one year of my life like this one year is going to give me so much more than one year in a full time job for me personally right now. And like, I just had to keep saying that. And then I think it finally hit home with them and then they sort of turned around and started to support my travels rather than stop me from traveling, because I think they also realize, like, I’m going to do what I want to do, I am at an age where I am able to make these decisions for myself. And I was supporting myself financially so they couldn’t have, you know, actually stopped me from buying tickets. [00:15:46][82.3]

Epsa: [00:15:47] I think that’s great. You kind of said it, like it’s really just a short term experience that has a lasting experience on you. And I think that’s what parents just have to understand. [00:15:59][11.8]

Anjana: [00:16:00] They just have to get it. [00:16:00][0.0]

Epsa: [00:16:00] They just should get it as if they didn’t spend years raising us. But I mean, like, they spent those years raising us to have individualistic mindset and you did what you needed to do. [00:16:10][10.4]

Anjana: [00:16:11] And I feel like people are always so quick to be like, OK, I need to have a job right after college. But why? You have the rest of your life to work. One year is not going to set you back and I feel like that’s the mindset a lot of people have is like, OK, but if I’m abroad for a year, I’m going to be setback, like setback from what? [00:16:29][17.9]

Kassidy: [00:16:30] Exactly. I entirely agree with that. And I feel like that was something that I had to fight myself with, like not only my parents, but like my internal conflict that I was having because like, OCOB really, really builds you up and like, hypes you up saying, “You are the best. You deserve this and this and this, go out and get it.” And I feel like I was almost letting myself down by taking this year off to do that. But then I’m like, wait, no, no. This is going to impact everything, like me as a person, it’s going to give me so much more like you said than when you’re at work. And I feel like that should be preached more often because I don’t know, there’s so much like identity in work, I feel like and that was like very much ingrained in college. And so I feel like that’s why people are so scared of not having a job, because they feel like they don’t have something to share about themselves when they meet people. I don’t know, that might be pretty niche. [00:17:26][55.9]

Epsa: [00:17:27] Makes sense because like when you go to Cal Poly, you’re like, hi, I’m Epsa I go to Cal Poly and then transitioning to post-grad, hi, I’m Epsa, I work at VMware. How do you introduce yourself in a group of people? [00:17:35][8.6]

Kassidy: [00:17:37] Yes, I actually just journaled about this the other day, I was like, I don’t understand, why there’s so much identity stake in our careers. Like, I think that there’s too much emphasis on what you do. Like, I feel like the first question people ask you, like after “Hi, what’s your name?” “I’m Kassidy.” “Oh, what do you do, Kassidy?” It’s like, well do you care about how I’m doing or who am? There’s so much more to a person than just work. And I feel like especially with our generation and especially like coming from an immigrant family, there’s just too much pressure and like too much emphasis on working, especially right after school. [00:18:19][42.0]

Epsa: [00:18:22] No, it is. It’s always like, what’s the next step? [00:18:23][1.6]

Anjana: [00:18:24] Right. And I think it’s not just immigrant families, which one hundred percent I feel you, and not even just in college and the college we went to, but it’s the American culture is you live to work rather than you work to live. [00:18:40][15.5]

Kassidy: [00:18:41] That’s so accurate. I agree entirely. And that is also another massive thing that I kind of realized in my gap year. Everyone that I met, like the first question that they asked me was like, “Oh, where are you from? Oh, what’s it like at home? What do you do for fun at home?” It was never revolved around work or school. And like half the time, like some of the people that I met, I didn’t even know if they went to college. I didn’t know if they worked full time. And like there was just so much less of an emphasis on work. Like you said, American culture definitely overemphasizes. It makes it seem like a one all-be all sort of thing. But in other cultures, it’s not as strong of an emphasis. And I hope that that’s going to be adopted slowly into American culture because, there’s just too much pressure on everyone to get the best job. And you’re, like, so happy at the job. [00:19:36][55.8]

Epsa: [00:19:37] Exactly. I could not agree more. I think we don’t talk about how yes, there’s so much pressure to land that dream job. But there’s also this, like, unspoken pressure to also come across as super happy and content when you’re in that quote unquote dream job because like, hey, it’s what you worked these past four years for, shouldn’t you be thriving? When sometimes like that maybe is not the case, and there’s so many other factors that play into that. But aside from, you know, regular postgrad dilemmas and confusions people have, I am super curious to hear more about your Australia trip, because I know your gap year post grad, majority of it was spent in Australia. So could you just share your time there, what you did to sustain yourself? And I saw that you posted you had forty roommates. I just want to hear all about that. Like, lay it on us. The whole experience. [00:20:29][51.1]

Kassidy: [00:20:30] Yeah. Yeah. So a little recap. In January of this year, I moved to Australia on the work and holiday visa. I moved specifically to Melbourne. My original plan was to work and live in Melbourne for the first three and a half months, save up money, go visit my friends in the UK for a month while they were on like spring break and then come back and travel the East Coast of Australia for the next two months and then go back to Southeast Asia. But obviously that didn’t go according to plan because of COVID. But what actually did end up happening was I did live and work in Melbourne for the first three months of the year. I got two waitressing jobs, which I absolutely loved. One was at a coffee shop and then the other one was at a Thai restaurant. And then for like living accommodation, I decided to move into a long term hostel that housed a total of forty other people and everyone who’s staying were also expats in Australia on the work and holiday visas. So it was really great just being with people that were in the same boat as me. And I guess I just decided to do this because I know that I’m a really big people person and I knew I’d get lonely if I moved into an apartment alone or if I was just with a couple of other roommates. [00:21:46][75.8]

Anjana: [00:21:47] Do you have any funny moments from living with 40 people? [00:21:51][3.7]

Kassidy: [00:21:54] Actually, yeah, I do. On the first day of me checking into this new, like long term hostel. I got chatting with one of the girls that worked there and she was like, “Oh, what part of America are you from?” I said, “California. How about you?” She’s like, “No way, same, what part?” and I was like “Orange County, but I went to school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, if you’ve heard of it?” And she’s like, “No way, I went there too!” And I was like, what the heck? I literally just moved to the complete opposite side of the world and checked into this place where I’ve never been to, didn’t know anyone. And here I am running into someone from Cal Poly. [00:22:30][36.2]

Epsa: [00:22:31] Wait that’s literally insane that you bumped into someone from Cal Poly while you were, like, not escaping Cal Poly, but you were literally in Australia. But also just knowing how Cal Poly is, that doesn’t fully surprise me. [00:22:46][15.0]

Kassidy: [00:22:48] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nailed that one on the head. [00:22:52][3.5]

Anjana: [00:22:52] So while you were abroad, I think you mentioned earlier you worked two jobs. Could you tell us more about that and what it was like? [00:22:59][7.0]

Kassidy: [00:23:00] I had like a safety net or like an emergency fund that I never tapped into, but I knew Australia was going to be a really expensive destination and that my savings wouldn’t last as long as I would like it to, so I decided to go on the work and holiday visa there, which worked out really well because I was fortunate enough to work two waitressing jobs. One at a little coffee cafe sort of thing in Brunswick, and then another one at a Thai restaurant, which was really fun. They fed me a lot of good Thai food. Working in a different country is definitely interesting and it’s a lot of fun. Luckily, obviously, like in Australia, they speak English. So it wasn’t like that language barrier, but there’s still a lot of like cultural differences and norms that I had to get used to to like interact properly with the Australian people. Like I remember my manager was like, “Oh, go take care of the till she’s asked you for serviettes. And I’m like,. [00:23:59][59.2]

Epsa: [00:24:00] What? [00:24:00][0.0]

Anjana: [00:24:00] Who? [00:24:00][0.0]

Kassidy: [00:24:01] The till… what is the till? Like, what does that even sound like to you? Like I was at a complete loss. Yeah. So he’s like go to the cashier. That woman’s asking for napkins — I was like, what? [00:24:11][10.4]

Epsa: [00:24:13] I would honestly quit my job. [00:24:14][1.2]

Kassidy: [00:24:16] Yeah. I was like this is just a different language. An interesting thing that I learned in Australia was that customer service isn’t as big of a deal as in America. They have the right to refuse any customer, I guess, as American businesses do as well. But it’s like less common. But I got some experience in that regard, like one of my managers, I was dealing with a really tough customer. She was like complaining about her coffee and like saying that it’s literally horrible and like, she’s never going to come back blah blah. And I was like, oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry. She’s demanding to speak to the manager, and I was like, oh, God, I don’t know how to go about this. And eventually the manager came out and was like, “Fine then get out. We don’t want to serve you anyway. Go take your coffee cup and leave. Get out of the property.” And all this stuff and I was like, oh my God, that would literally never happen in America. I’ve always wanted to be a waiter. So I’m glad I got my fix of being a waiter before, I guess hoping to dive into my career. [00:25:17][60.9]

Anjana: [00:25:18] What did you feel you took away from your experience that are like transferable skills? Right. When you are now looking for a job and like you’re trying to market yourself, like, what do you feel like you learned during your time abroad that you can say, like, hey, I learned this and this is what makes me different from other applicants. [00:25:35][17.3]

Kassidy: [00:25:37] Yeah, I’d say that this experience made me a lot more adaptable and not only in situations, but with people and learning how to interact with a wide range of different personalities or people from different cultures or different countries in general, I feel like this is something that would be very transferable and beneficial in either industry that I hope to get into. And I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I’m hoping to in the next few months, cross my fingers, get into the recruiting or merchandizing industry. And both of these roles are very cross-functional and communicative. And so I think this would be a skill that would be, you know, very transferable and beneficial. [00:26:19][42.2]

Epsa: [00:26:20] I have a follow up to that, like with just everything being so like indefinite, what to you like with the experiences you’ve gotten, like what would be the best case scenario? Like you get a job or you get something like what would be like, yes, this is a good blend of that weird corporate life we all want, plus what you kind of gain from your Australia gap year experience? [00:26:41][20.8]

Kassidy: [00:26:43] Oh, yeah, ideal situation would be to move up to San Francisco soon and spend a good chunk of my earlier 20s there. I absolutely love the city and I know that’s where I kind of want to be for a good while. So settle down there and hopefully be working for a company that just makes me feel really empowered and motivated. I’m not really sure what industry just yet. I used to be really fixated on just fashion or like any company that would allow me to do merchandizing. But after this year, I kind of realized that I have a huge passion for people and I’d love to do recruiting as well. So I don’t know, kind of like that’s where my head’s at for that. But I’d hope that this company would have an international presence or is looking to expand because ultimately I’d love to work abroad for a few years, either in the UK or in Australia again, or like even Amsterdam or Berlin. So, yeah, that’s kind of like ideal, ideal situation. [00:27:42][58.9]

Epsa: [00:27:44] Oh, I can totally see you doing recruiting and fashion merchandizing, but I think it’s cool that you have a newfound kind of discovery of what you’d want to do and it would just be so silly and best case scenario, best of both worlds if you were able to work abroad as well. [00:27:59][15.1]

Anjana: [00:28:00] The thing that I was going to say that I feel like you have a leg up on in terms of like your experience abroad and kind of being spontaneous is I feel like in 2020, you know, when everyone’s plan just got thrown to the wind. And, you know, for everyone who was kind of like, what do I do now when they’ve been told, like, you have to do X, Y, Z steps to get to from point A to point B, and now there is no point B because a lot of jobs were taken away or offers were taken away. I feel like people who have been following this path to get somewhere and no longer really know what to do with themselves. There’s just a lack of understanding how to handle ambiguity. And I feel like you could probably, with your experience, just handle this ambiguity a lot better. [00:28:49][49.7]

Kassidy: [00:28:51] Wow. That’s like a nice compliment. I feel like I definitely struggle like the average person in regards to, like, not having a plan or ambiguity as a whole. But I feel like a lot of experiences leading up to my gap year had prepared me well for my gap year, I guess, because obviously when you’re traveling, like things don’t go according to plan. Traveling has made me a lot more like, all right, that didn’t happen, let’s do this; Oh, that doesn’t happen, all right, we’ll do this then. Just coming up with alternatives quickly and not getting hung up over it is a lesson that I think everyone would benefit from learning on earlier. [00:29:27][36.0]

Anjana: [00:29:27] I just feel like that’s something that you just learn, you know, and I think your experiences have taught you so much about how to just move on after something doesn’t work out because eventually things do work out. [00:29:37][9.5]

Kassidy: [00:29:38] Yes, eventually everything will work out. May not be the way you want it to, but it does. [00:29:42][4.1]

Epsa: [00:29:44] Everything happens for a reason, at the end of the day. With your experiences and where you are now, Kassidy, in your opinion, how can young individuals like us reimagine their next steps, postgrad and break out of societal norms? [00:30:00][15.6]

Kassidy: [00:30:01] Well, I think the first thing is that we should accept the fact that there shouldn’t be a norm. Everyone’s journey is completely different. And postgrad doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, you know, work right away, like right after you graduate or work at one company for the rest of your life. I think that it’s going to be a lot more common for people to take time off and to, like, do things that are going to be better for them in the long run, whether that be, you know, taking a gap year and traveling after high school or college, or just taking time off between jobs to self reflect and to give yourself a break. I feel like everyone deserves time off. Everyone deserves a break. Life isn’t about work all the time, and I hope that is going to be driven home a little bit more in our generation and hopefully we’ll be able to reap from that mindset change. [00:30:54][53.0]