Makayla Duplantis cuddling a koala, Australia
For Texan kinesiologist Makayla Duplantis, a gap year broadened her perspective not just about work, but about people, too.
Makayla Duplantis had been on vacations to Central America and the Caribbean with her close-knit family before. But it wasn’t until a trip to Thailand in 2016 that she really began to contemplate how stepping outside her comfort zone might give her a fresh take on her homeland – and revitalise her career.
"I'd always thought that everything else in the world was based off America, but it turns out that’s not the case," says the kinesiologist from Beaumont, Texas. "I saw how different America appears from other perspectives and learnt so much about my own country from talking to people."
Curiosity stirred, the 27-year-old Lamar University graduate took stock after three years working for a local pain care business and decided she needed to reset her career. She also determined it would take more than a standard seven-day vacation to do so.
"I literally Googled 'how to work and travel'," she recalls." For people my age there were just four countries where I could do that and after reading a lot of blogs and considering the weather and the costs, I decided on Australia. Oh, and I love beaches, so that was the clincher!"
Arriving in Sydney in summer, Makayla took in her new surrounds then embarked on a highlight-filled six-week tour that took her from Melbourne to Port Douglas, the picturesque and adventure-packed former fishing village north of Cairns that Bill Clinton helped put on the map during a 1996 presidential visit.
After snorkelling the reef, bungy-jumping and surfing, Makayla returned to Sydney and soon picked up work as an au pair looking after three children under six within walking distance of one of the city’s most popular beaches.
"It gave me the family I was missing," she says. "And if I ever wanted time to go off somewhere for the weekend, there'd be no trouble organising that."
After less than four months, Makayla could already say the trip was transformative.
"I've changed so much, I'm 100 per cent different. It's amazing what you get rid of. My priorities have changed and I'm definitely more tolerant in that I open up to more people and don't judge them before I talk to them. I didn't even realise that's what I did before. Everybody brings something."
If Makayla has changed, so too have her plans. Originally intending to stay for five months, until July 2017, she has pushed out her departure date to 2018, and potentially beyond. "I don’t want to leave just yet. This opportunity is only there until you're 30, so I'm going to stay the full year and haven't decided yet whether to stay for a second year."
"I found I loved it in Port Douglas – it's hot and humid like home – so if I want to do a second year that's where I want to do it."
Her mother and sister will get to judge for themselves how much she has changed when they visit in late 2017.
And of her eventual return to America? "Absolutely life will be different for me once I’m back home. I've changed – in a good way."
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