Why My Child’s Gap Year is Vital

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There are a lot of great arguments for the value of a Gap Year for young people. Chief among them seem to be the focus on a break from the long slog of 12 years of institutional schooling, the value of getting outside of a home culture and seeing from different perspectives, and the time to pursue passions in a way that might develop clarity on a professional path forward. These are great reasons, and I agree wholeheartedly, but they don’t apply to my kids.

My kids didn’t attend a brick and mortar school until they transferred their outside the box credit into university programs. We spent 8 of the most formative years of their childhoods traveling full time, across six continents and dozens of countries. Their entire education has been focused around building their dreams and pursuing their passions.

Does taking a Gap Year still matter?

It is my opinion that taking a Gap Trip is a vital part of any education. It builds confidence, provides a test flight, and develops independence in ways that forever change the course of a young life.

Gap Years Build Confidence

Most young people approach the bridge to adulthood with some anxiety. As parents, we wonder if we have done enough to prepare our kids for the “real world,” and we are nervous about their first forays into the wilds alone. It has been my observation that the only way to build confidence is through experience.

The only way to gain experience is by actually doing things. The only way to actually do things, is to bravely take a risk and conquer a hard thing. Of course there are risks, and then there are risks. Gap Years provide a way for students to take small, calculated risks as they develop in their confidence. A well chosen program will have this built into the experiential learning.

Your child may appear perfectly confident in her home environment and perfectly capable within the sphere you have raised her in, but we all know that the real world is bigger. A Gap Year is the perfect way to stretch her wings and expand her confidence.

Gap Year As a Test Flight

In our family we talk a lot about “test flights” and we don’t wait until a Gap Year to begin them. My kids fly alone between family members homes from a young age. At 13 they have all taken their first semi-solo trip or educational experience. By 15 they have all spent as much as a month completely on their own, traveling or studying, in some capacity. As they graduate high school we expect them to take a self-planned, self directed journey of at least a few months in order to flap their wings a bit and gain some experience with self governance in the larger world.

Of course the nature of a test flight is safety nets. We work with our students to plan their Gap experience and (unbeknownst to them) we put a few safety measures in place. Such as, reserve funds of cash, back up people in the countries they’re traveling to, and extra insurance on their trip and their stuff.

Gap Years Develop Independence

We can’t imagine, when our children are tiny, that the day will ever come when they don’t “need” us. But, if we’ve done our jobs properly, that day does come, and to my way of thinking, the sooner the better. Not because I don’t want my kids around or to have a voice in their lives, but because I want, more than anything, for them to be strong, successful and fulfilled in pursuing their dreams. Maintaining control in their lives longer than is absolutely necessary would cripple them in that. My goal as a mother is to give them roots, wings, and a nest to return to, but never be bound by.

In planning and executing a Gap Year your young person will develop and actively practice independence. When my daughter required stitches in Italy, I couldn’t help her. When her phone was stolen in Paris, she had to learn to file a police report. When my son waged war with a violent storm on the Mediterranean, he and his team were on their own. When he lost his wallet and his phone in Barcelona and was completely out of money, he had to figure it out. When another son needed to make his way, by bus, through the mountains of Guatemala his second language had to be strong enough to work it out fro himself. As painful as those sorts of experiences can be, they are the building blocks of independence. Until our young people actually stand on their own two feet, they won’t know if they can, and we won’t either.

There is a lot of hand wringing and lament over the state of the millennial generation. The general sentiment seems to be that young people can’t handle their own lives, or make their way in the “real world.” I would like to submit that one solution to that dilemma is the Gap Year. Young people who travel on their own develop confidence on their test flights and they grow in independence in ways that simply can’t happen without taking the leap outside of a box. Even a non-traditional box, like ours.

Photo Credit: Josh Felise

8 Reasons to Take a Gap Year

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Gap8Taking a gap year in certain countries like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand is a right of passage that many teenage and early twenty somethings take advantage of. Taking that time to travel the world, volunteer, work, and have worldly experiences is said to prepare these young men and women for the rest of their lives.

Gap years are highly misconstrued in other parts of the world though, in particular the United States. If you live in a country where a gap year is not part of the normal lexicon, you probably have some questions.

  • What is a gap year?
  • When do people take one?
  • What’s the point?

Once we get through the nitty gritty of defining a gap year, we’ll get into why we think that you should take one, no matter what your age or situation. There are a multitude of reasons why someone should take a gap year, whether it’s the student finishing high school or that 40-something mom and dad who just need a break.

What is a gap year?
The traditional definition of a gap year is a period of time where a student takes a break from his or her studies. The time period is typically about a year and is usually after high school or college.

When do people take a gap year?
Even though the traditional time to take a gap year has been after high school or college, the definition has been changing to include terms like sabbatical or career break. This means that you don’t have to be a young student taking a break from school to travel the world. You could be a young professional who simply wants a break or to give yourself the chance to look into another career. You could be in the middle of life, with kids in school, a mortgage, and a family, but you want to take a break to travel the world with your family, taking a massive world-wide field trip. The term gap year isn’t just for students anymore. Anyone can take a gap year; it doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 or 58. If you feel you need a break, then take one!

What’s the point?
Detractors of the gap year say the only reason people take one is to get away from real life and spend a year partying and having no responsibilities. Do some travelers spend this time being unproductive and doing things like getting high, drinking, and partying all the time? Of course they do, but the percentage of travelers doing this isn’t any higher than those in college, working in a career, or raising a family.

The reasons for taking a gap year can be many, and even though we narrowed them down to eight, there are countless reasons to take a break from normal life to pursue your travel dreams.

That perfect time is never going to come

One of the biggest reasons people give for not taking a break to travel is because the timing just isn’t right. Whether it’s a job, a relationship, a family, or any other excuse one gives for not pursuing what they really want in life, it’s time to realize that the perfect time is simply never going to come. There will never be that magical time to do all the things you have always dreamed about. The only way any of these things will happen is if you make them a priority.

Whether it’s a job, a relationship, a family, or any other excuse one gives for not pursuing what they really want in life, it’s time to realize that the perfect time is simply never going to come.

Taking a gap year is a risk, there’s no doubt about it. You may have to decide to leave a job you really like. You may be worried about putting school off for a year. You may have concern for yanking your kids out of school to travel for a year. With any tough decision, there are risks involved, and taking a gap year is no different. But from every gap year traveler I have spoken with over the years, I have yet to meet one who regrets taking one. The only detractors seem to be the ones who never thought of doing it themselves.

When taking advice about an experience, would you want to listen to people who have done it before or those who have never even thought about it?

It can be cheaper than living at home

There is no bigger myth about gap years, sabbaticals, and long term travel than it being too expensive. While yes, it is not free, and while yes, it will take sacrifice and hard work to save for a trip of this magnitude, what big, life changing event is cheap and doesn’t take hard work to make happen?

  • College.
  • Weddings.
  • Buying a house.
  • Having children.

All are major life events, and all cost money. Hell, traveling for a year is the cheapest out of all of them, and the experience one gets from traveling extensively is just as valuable as those other life events. It’s just that the other ones are part of what we’re supposed to do, while traveling for a year simply isn’t (yet).

Hell, traveling for a year is the cheapest out of all of them, and the experience one gets from traveling extensively is just as valuable as those other life events.

And honestly, it’s probably not nearly as expensive as you might think. Now if you decide to travel in Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, or any other developed, westernized country the entire time, yes, it’s going to be pricey. Or if you go to a new city every 3 days, stay in luxury hotels, eat at only the fine restaurants, and refuse to travel by train or bus.

But if you stick to developing regions like Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, you can get by on a fraction of the money you spend at home. It’s not uncommon to be able to travel comfortably in these regions for under $50 per day. The more hardcore can do it for half that.

Do the math, and $50/day comes out to $18,000 for a year of travel. Cut some corners here and there, and that number can easily go down to $10,000-$15,000. Are you living on less than that in your daily life right now?

If money is a major concern, and you think you’ll have trouble coming up with the necessary funds before leaving, there are plenty of jobs out there where you can work while you travel. You can also spend less while staying put for a while, taking language classes or volunteering while really getting to know a new culture.

Do the math, and $50/day comes out to $18,000 for a year of travel. Cut some corners here and there, and that number can easily go down to $9,000-$12,000. Are you living on less than that in your daily life right now?

Not only will working, volunteering, or becoming an expat for a month of two be cheaper, but it will also be a great experience. Slowing down, staying in one place, and really getting to know another culture is an experience not everyone gets, and the skills you learn while doing these things look great on a resume.

It gives you a chance to breathe

No matter where you are in life, chances are you’ve been really busy and working your ass off. High school seniors feel the pressure of college and tests and college admission essays. College seniors stress about getting a job in their field in a down economy while somehow being able to pay off their massive student loan debt. 20 and 30-somethings have been working since leaving school, many in high stress situations or in fields they found out they really don’t like. Families feel the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses and providing a top notch education for their children.

A gap year is the perfect way to deal with burnout, give yourself some perspective, and get your life on the track you want it to be on.

No matter what stage in life you are in, chances are you could probably use a break. Even when going on vacation, how many people are still tethered to their phones or laptops, worrying about work while they’re supposed to be resting? We are all very busy people, and most live lives that are hectic and tiresome. It’s just (an unfortunate) part of today’s culture. And I’ll be willing to bet that you deserve a break from life. A chance to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing. A chance to recharge your battery and do something for you. A gap year is the perfect way to deal with burnout, give yourself some perspective, and get your life on the track you want it to be on.

You hate your job

Many people who decide to take a gap year are those who are miserable in their jobs and careers. Our society is a bit backwards, making 18-year-old kids decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. For generations, that’s just how it worked. No one seemed to question the absurdity of choosing a career to work for the next 30-40 years when you’re barely out of high school. So it’s no surprise that we have a lot of people, both young and old, questioning what it is they are doing with their lives.

There’s no shame in saying, ‘I got it wrong.’ There’s no shame in picking up at 25, 35, 45, even 55-years-old and realizing that you are in the wrong career.

Many younger people have seen their parents work jobs and careers they hate, devoting their lives to them so they can make better lives for their families. It’s an admirable things to do, but we have seen loved ones get royally screwed by devoting themselves to one career and one company then having that company turn their backs on them or have their retirement funds decimated. Many of us don’t want the same thing to happen to us. There’s no shame in saying, “I got it wrong.” There’s no shame in picking up at 25, 35, 45, even 55-years-old and realizing that you are in the wrong career.

The question is, “What are you going to do about it?” A gap year could be the place to start.

Read the full article and the other 4 reasons on Bootsnall

Image Credit: Pablo GarciaSaldaña

Developing a Gap Year Savings Timeline

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You’re welcome. Here’s the most useful gap year financial planning guide on the internet. Happy saving (and spending – you earned it!).

General Saving Tips For Your Gap Year

This is probably one of the biggest purchases of your life – yikes! It can be challenging for high school students to reach their gap year savings goals particularly because there is no materialistic, tangible, physical, immediate gain from all of your work. Saving money to buy “experiences” later sounds so lame.

But it isn’t. We promise. Your future self will thank your current self for being so wallet savvy.

TIP #1: START PLANNING AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE

Since the GMO movement hasn’t given us a true dollar tree quite yet, your best bet is to have time on your side as you plan for your gap year budget. We’ll presume that you’ve already had the long talk with Mom and Dad and that they’re supportive of your decision.

*Hopefully* they also agreed to commit some sum of money to help you offset the costs. You may’ve felt a little slighted at first with the actual amount, but you should actually feel excited to contribute to your own Gap Year prep in this way. It involves an extreme amount of investment (both financially and personally), so it will make your Gap Year feel all the sweeter when it comes to fruition, knowing you’re really earned it!

One year or more ahead of you is essential to tackle the pending cost with ease.

TIP #2. YA GOTTA BUDGET

We all mean well when we plan out a budget, but without discipline, impulse control, diligent logging of your income and expenses, you might end up desperately selling your old Pokemon cards for quick cash. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can use finite dollar amounts (such as $40 monthly) or a percentage of your paycheck (40% monthly) to start.

Track your expenditures to see where your hard-earned-cash is going – it’s enlightening when you see the numbers, and you can use your new-found stats to make more informed decisions about where your money goes.

TIP #3. TELL EVERYONE YOUR GOALS!

It doesn’t have to be in a “Look at me, look at me!” way or with a guilt-ridden undertone a la Eeyore (“I guess I’ll never have enough money for a gap year, rich Uncle Kevin…”). But, much like weight loss, the more people are aware of your current efforts, the more accountability you have towards them. Further, this group of people can likewise become a huge source of support – it’s great to surround yourself with friends who talk you out of buying that new NBA ball cap, even if you really want it.

TIP #4. GET MOTIVATED CREATIVELY

Add photos to your walls, bookmark favorite websites, pin EVERYTHING. Surround yourself with quotes, images, art that inspires wanderlust. Declare a savings mantra, write it on a piece of paper, and stick it in your wallet (right next to your debit card or dollar bills). Hang a photo from your car’s rearview mirror. Decorate your school books with well-filtered photos that make you giddy to travel.

You’ve got this.

The Gap Year Savings Timeline

COUNTDOWN BENCH MARK WHAT, HOW, WHY?
One year before departure $0 Ball park OVER-estimate your total cost. With eyes on the prize, get to work on pinching pennies.
11 months before departure $1000 Empty all of your coat pockets, cash all of your birthday checks, and start taking at least $100 from your weekly paycheck to devote to saving.
10 months before departure $2000 Your commitment is waning – start getting creative. Build the online fundraiser and push it to your networks.
9 months before departure $2500 It’s the holiday season. Buy your family some nice gifts. Don’t stress about savings, but don’t drink too many offensive holiday lattes, either.
8 months before departure $4000 Whoohoo! Your aunts and uncles pulled through with holiday gifts, so you were able to up your savings this month.
7 months before departure $4500 You had way more, but you had to buy a passport and apply for your visa. Rats! Expenses!
6 months before departure $5200 You’re losing steam again. Is it September yet? What’s the deal? You just wanna hang with your friends and buy that cute top. Remember: delayed gratification > instant gratification.
5 months before departure $6000 You got a new side job that can be done remotely, so you’re excited for the extra cash that’s more on your terms. Way to hustle!
4 months before departure $5800 You saved a bunch, but you also bought your flights this month. No shame in splurging on the direct route.
3 months before departure $7500 It’s getting serious. Summer is in full swing, and your part-time gig turned to 40 hours/week. You get really good at suggesting fun *free* activities for you and your friends to pass the summer nights. You pay a portion of your program fees.
2 months before departure $8300 You started buying some gnarly new equipment for the trip – cool Osprey pack!
1 month before departure $9000 The expenditures on equipment continue to fly off the shelf, but you’re a pro-saver now so you don’t sweat it. You’ve put in your two weeks notice and are excited to end the summer in style.
2 weeks before departure $8800 No work + final hang outs with friends + those pesky, last minute items to stuff in your backpack seriously add up.
1 week before departure $5000 You just had to splurge on your favorite pizza and buy the Adele CD. We understand. You also paid off a significant chunk of your program fees – good for you! – and now have a fat wad of 5000 to your name to take abroad.

Tools

Saving money and planning ahead for a major expense like a gap year is no joke. It takes time, commitment, thought, persistence, and some sacrifice. Luckily for you, there are many online tools available (hat tip to the internet!) to help you stay on track and reach your goals.

  • FundMyTravel is an online crowd-funding resource specifically designed to help travelers lessen the financial burdens of their work abroad. You can get friends and family (and even a technologically-savvy Grandma) to contribute funds to your campaign. You can also use an “Adventure Registry” so folks can opt to buy your backpack, fund your visa, etc. Neat!
  • Mint.com Ah, Mint. This web-based financial tool can also be downloaded as an app, and streamlines access to multiple bank accounts, as well as debit and credit cards. It’s helpful to have the info easily accessible in your pocket, so you can double check your balance before splurging on those summer music festival tickets.
  • Stay on a Budget App A great app that automatically tracks what you’re spending and where, taking the legwork out of annoying ratios or percentages. Again: access from your smart phone (which we have a hunch you use daily) helps this tool transition seamlessly into your daily-spending-life.

There you have it. Everything you need to know to give your poor spending habits the 1-2-punch. Find your green and later find your passion as you travel the world on your gap year.

Photo Credit: Andrew Pons

What’s the Point of a Gap Year?

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To be the campus stud, obviously!

No, just kidding. People pack their gap-year-bags with many unique motivators: gaining more experience or understanding of an area they’re thinking of pursuing in college, making money to pay for said-college, volunteering, or meeting people from halfway across the world.

There is actually no one point to a Gap Year – that’s the beauty of it. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. There’s no guidebook to tell you what to accomplish, how to get from A to B, or a review sheet for some standardized post Gap Year final exam.

The point of a Gap Year is up to YOU, the gapper yourself, to define.

Say QUOI?

Okay, we’ll back up a bit.

Did You Have A Say In Your Education?

Besides choosing one elective over the other during your upperclassmen years of high school, it is rare that the US system invites students’ opinions into the curriculum-deciding-parties. On the one hand, this is good, because they are experts and they have experience in defining what all youths need to assimilate in order to adult well. On the other hand, it does have a negative side effect – students become less invested in their learning and kind of forget how cool learning is in general (save for that one science lesson on how to make ice cream at home).

The reality is: most school administrations barely let students have a say in their lunch options, let alone in including classes in the liberal arts or other extensive courses. So if you don’t feel like your interests or passions were catered to in your general education since kindergarten, you’re in luck.

Now You Can Have a Say

All bets are off. The Gap Year is time that you, specifically, can devote to deepening your understanding of whatever the heck you want. Spanish? Cool – tons of programs in Latin America. The life of a farmer? Yup, Gap Year programs have you covered. General self-awareness and independence? Comin’ right up. Curious about working in construction? There’s an international job for that.

Fleshing out the point of YOUR Gap Year is some serious exercise in self awareness. Are you already breaking a sweat? But with time, reflections, conversations with mentors and your family, a chunk of research online to know all of your program options, you are bound to craft an adventure that can (and will!) reignite your interest in learning.

It’s Okay if You’re Not Ready

Taking the reigns of your life and your education is no small feat – especially considering that we’ve been herded around like cows from class to class and schedule to schedule all of our academic lives. It’s okay if the task seems more daunting than exciting. You can either choose to face it head on, balls to the wall and overcome it – or, alternatively, you can sign up for a Gap Year program that will help guide you through this process (which will likewise include balls to the wall learning and excitement, just served up a little differently).

Another perk of using a program like Carpe Diem Education or Thinking Beyond Borders is the instant community of fellow gappers that you gain. It’s fun to see the world, but it’s also really fun to see the world in the company of friends – people who are wrestling with life’s big questions, just like you. If the point of a Gap Year is up to you self-define, it helps to have friends and peers you can bounce ideas off of.

Should I do a Gap Year?

A Gap Year can bring tremendous value to a young person’s life. It’s not just taking cool photos, having epic experiences, and running out of pages in your passport. It’s a short term investment with long term gains. If you are calling to question the status-quo or norms of your life, you’re ripe for adventure. Exposing yourself to new ways of living, new ways of thinking, and new ways of cooperating will only further help you make “sense of it all.”

Everyone, especially you, should do a Gap Year.

The underlying goal of a Gap Year should be to explore: the world, your mind, your heart. Find what excites you to learn about. Chase that curiosity, whether it takes you around the corner or around the globe.

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt

Article contributed by Megan Lee

10 Gap Year Scholarships to Apply For Today

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You knew that there were scholarships available for university and college programs, but were you aware that there are also scholarships available for people taking Gap Years?

There are!

If you’re going through a Gap Year organization then it’s likely they are going to have some scholarship money to award. Be sure to ask for it! Even if you are charting your own course, or no funding is available through the organization you partner with, there are outside scholarships that you can apply for.

Back a Gapper

The “Back-a-Gapper” Scholarship program is a network of individual scholarships that individuals interested in taking a Gap Year are eligible to apply for. Each scholarship, listed in this Back-a-Gapper section, will have a brief description and instructions on how to apply.

The Humboldt Back-A-Gapper Scholarship is endowed by the generosity of Richard Stepp, a Humboldt State University Professor and philanthropist. Students must (A) be a resident of Humboldt County, California, (B) and be applying for an AGA-Accredited program. Over the next 3 years, roughly $20,000 will be given to individuals who meet these criteria and are selected by this competitive application process.

The Pollination Project

The Pollination Project gives $1,000 startup grants to individual change makers and projects that promote compassion around the world.

National Security Language Initiative for Youth

The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs. Previous language study is not required, and language learners of all levels are encouraged to apply.

This is a scholarship for recent high school graduates or current high school students aged 16-18 to focus on “high need” languages. The current list includes: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajik), Russian and Turkish.

Fund for Education Abroad

This award requires university credit. Fund for Education Abroad. The newly established Fund for Education Abroad (FEA) was created in order to open doors for deserving education abroad students.

Starting with the 2011-2012 academic year, FEA will award funds for students planning to study abroad on any academically rigorous programs. Designed by the FEA Advisory Board, FEA scholarships are intended to meet the financial needs of students who might not be eligible for government grants or existing funds limited to specific programs or groups of students.

America’s Unofficial Ambassadors

This scholarship requires university credit, too. Competitive scholarship for students who are primarily going to Muslim countries. The idea is that bridges are built through forming meaningful connections across cultural boundaries and they’re awarding money for people going to volunteer in the Muslim world.

Foundation for Global Scholars GRIT

The Foundation for Global Scholars is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Denver, Colorado whose mission is to create global citizens and leaders by assisting students in achieving their personal and professional goals of obtaining cultural and academic experiences abroad. The Foundation will support this mission by awarding scholarships to help enable students to obtain an international experience. Students who are from underrepresented populations in international education are a priority.

Browery Youth Awards

arth Island Institute Brower Youth Awards for 13 – 22 year olds living in North America who show outstanding leadership on a project or campaign with social impact of environmental impact

Freeman Awards-Asia

This is another scholarship that requires university credit. This is for students primarily going to Asia and offers scholarships up to $7,000.

A Freeman-ASIA Award provides need-based funding to assist the recipient with the cost of the study abroad program and related expenses, including airfare, basic living costs, local transportation, books, etc.

Schepp Foundation

This award equires university credit. Do check the page for eligibility before applying. You’ll need to make a trip to NYC for a personal interview for this award and your costs for that will not be covered. People as old as 40 can apply for this grant, expanding the gap year demographic beyond the scope of most youth oriented programs.

Go Abroad Scholarships

Go Abroad has compiled their own list of scholarships and has some recommendations on the process of tracking down, applying for, and winning the ones best suited for you. They break them down by country of origin, as well as subject, all with a specific focus on going abroad (of course!)

Of course there’s always more to learn about financial aid for your Gap Year, visit our financial aid resources page to dive deeper!

Are you aware of Gap Year scholarships that we haven’t listed here? Please link to them in the comments!

Photo Credit: Ondrej Supitar