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