These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf. So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program. These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner. Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient. Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program. But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs. http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf
Q3: Can I speak to three previous participants?
Talking to past participants will give you the chance to get a better, more “unfiltered” view of the program from someone who was once in the same position you are now. They inevitably will offer you insights into the experience that you won’t get from speaking with program staff, and might be able to offer you more candid answers about the program. Bear in mind that the organization will select those alumni who will speak positively about their experience, so don’t expect to get any real “dirt” from your conversation – instead, find out where they ran aground in their experience. Past participants have nothing to lose by giving you their truly honest opinions about their own experiences and might offer you the exact information you need to determine whether this program is a good fit for you and how you can best prepare for your Gap Year. Some questions you might want to consider:
• Why did you choose this program over others?
• What were some of your favorite parts?
• What were your least favorite parts?
• Were there areas you felt the organization could have prepared you better?
• How supported did you feel in the ‘field’?
• How were your homestay/living experiences, if any? What were the challenges?
• What was/were the service-learning project(s) like?
• What was the day-to-day of the program like?
• If there were other participants or community attached to the experience, how were they?
• If you were going to do it all over again, what do you wish you had known before you started the program?
• What should/shouldn’t you bring that’s different from the material the organization provided?
The questions you could ask are limitless so this is your chance to really think about what you want to know and what kind of information will help you make the most informed decision about a program. Ultimately, you know best about what you want from your Gap Year, so take advantage of the opportunity to speak with past participants to get a better sense for what a potential program has to offer.
If an organization is unwilling to share contact information of past participants, or presents anything other than incredibly minor hurdles, then that should be a significant red flag. At the end of the day, the only person who actually can tell you what your experience will look like is someone who’s been there before you.