How to Bootstrap a Solo Gap Year

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If you have almost no money, how can you fund a self-designed Gap Year experience? Most give up. Some get really creative.

Victor Saad was 25 years old and seriously considering MBA programs when he decided that he could get a better learning experience—and spend much less money—by designing his own professional gap year, or in his words, a “self-made master’s degree.” He made plans to quit his job and take 12 business apprenticeships over the course of 12 months.

But he had one big problem: money.

Victor’s adventures would take him across the United States and the world, including China, Costa Rica, and Cairo. All these flights and living expenses would have to come from somewhere. As Victor explained in his TEDx talk:

I don’t have some massive trust fund, and FAFSA doesn’t let you take a loan out for your own self-made degree. So I got creative. I asked 200 people to subscribe to the project at $10 a month. They would get to learn from my lessons and see what I was doing, and I would have the means to run the project. After several really interesting conversations about why in the world anyone should give me a penny, roughly 100 trusting individuals gave me just what I needed.

In other words, Victor crowdfunded his expenses—but not in the typical fashion.

When most of us think about crowdfunding, we think of IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, or GoFundMe: powerful platforms that can certainly be used to run a successful fundraising campaign. But many potential contributors are hesitant to fund someone else’s travel adventure, and many cannot give more than a small amount of money. Many of these traditional campaigns fail to meet their goals.

A Different Approach: Providing Value to Supporters

Victor took a different approach that employed the same core idea behind crowdfunding—you give me some money, I provide you with meaningful updates and rewards related to my project—but turned it into a subscription service instead. It’s a lot less intimidating to ask someone for $10 a month for the next 12 months than asking for $120 right now. This model also ensured that Victor wouldn’t take the money and then neglect to provide the goods he promised (as too many crowdfunding campaigners do), because a contributor could simply cancel their sponsorship. For contributors, this approach feels much safer and friendlier than a traditional crowdfunding campaign.

What about travel costs? Victor’s subscriber income wouldn’t cover all the flights he needed, so he asked his network for help. The father of one of his former students ended up giving him a number of “buddy passes” for standby flights.

What about lodging cost? Victor’s approach was to first ask friends and family if they knew anyone in the area he could stay with. Then he tried Couchsurfing, Craigslist, Airbnb, and “frantically posting on Facebook and Twitter.” Essentially, he took whatever the world offered him:

I stayed in everything from office spaces to vehicles to mansions. I was a vagabond. But it was okay. I was a student.

I learned all this while researching Victor before interviewing him for my podcast, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, so I asked Victor if he relied on any other sources of funding to make this year possible. He told me that some of the apprenticeships he took did pay him $15-$20/hour and that he sold some possessions to earn a few thousand dollars at the beginning of the year. Beyond that, he received no outside support and completely self-funded his 12-month, travel-intensive learning experience.

Recipe for Independent Gap Year Funding

It’s clear from Victor’s story that he had a number of resources that allowed him to pull off this feat of funding, most notably a wide social network that let him recruit a critical mass of subscribers and people to donate things like flight buddy passes. Regardless, I see a model here for any young person who wants to take a Gap Year, doesn’t have the cash to fund it, and is willing to exercise her entrepreneurial muscles.

Here are the ingredients:

Subscription service: Instead of running one big crowdfunding campaign to fund your travels, offer “subscriptions” to your gap year for a fixed monthly rate. Provide options ranging from $5/month to $30/month. (The best platform for doing this at the moment is probably Patreon.) For the different levels, offer a range of perks including monthly email updates, postcards, souvenirs, and videos (which can also serve as accountability and journaling tools for you). Aim to generate at least $1000/month from this income.

Donated airline miles and buddy passes: To tackle with the major expense of flights, ask your family, friends, and communities if they would be willing to donate accumulated airline miles or buddy passes to your cause. You can also get one of the many credit cards that gives you 50,000+ air miles as soon you spend a few thousand dollars (which you can launder through your parents when they need to buy something expensive like a new computer).

Free housing: Get really comfortable with using Couchsurfing to stay at strangers’ houses. Tap your extended Facebook network to find potential hosts where you go. Investigate work-trades situations with hostels or private homeowners who will let you stay for free in exchange for a few hours of work each day (find these opportunities at Help Exchange and Work Away).

Part-time work: Develop a highly transferable skill (what I call a Masseuse Model skill) that will enable you to pick up part-time work wherever you go.

Frugality: Learn how to cook rice and beans really, really well. Figure out to how entertain yourself without going out for drinks or going bungee jumping.

Good-looking personal website & travel blog: Tell the story of your financing efforts on a highly polished personal website, which also serves as your travel blog. Victor was a master of sharing his story online, being genuine, inspiring people, and gaining their support. Be like Victor.

 

Together, these six ingredients could fund a Gap Year. It’s not an easy path, but it’s a rewarding one. Good luck, gappers!

PS- If you try putting this plan into action, I’d love to follow your progress, and maybe even help you set up your subscription service. Write me: yourstruly@blakeboles.com.

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Blake Boles is the founder of Unschool Adventures, the travel and education company for self-directed young people ages 14-21. His most recent books include The Art of Self-Directed Learning and How to Live Nowhere. Learn more at blakeboles.com.

Conferences for Gap Year Students to Attend

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When I was seventeen, on the cusp of adulthood, I boarded a flight to Germany that forever changed how I view education. In the four weeks I spent in Southern Germany, I realized that education and learning has less to do with a classroom, and more to do with a mindset. In those few weeks I learnt more about the world around me than I had in an entire year of sitting in a classroom. My classroom transformed from a small room lined with desks in Canada to common rooms in hostels, waiting areas in airports and cafés with good company. I realized that my previous association of learning and education with a classroom was completely wrong.

Learning and education is not limited to the four walls of a school – it continues wherever you give it the chance to grow. It was through leaving a traditional classroom and embarking on an adventure abroad that I learnt this.

By choosing to take a Gap Year, whatever shape or form it may take, you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn by your own rules. Whether that means joining a Gap Year program with fellow students or embarking on a solo trek through Eastern Europe, the opportunities to learn about yourself and the world around you are countless.

As Henry Miller once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

No matter where you go, you will find opportunities to further enrich your Gap Year experience. Below are a list of resources in order to help you find these opportunities.

Attend a Tedx Conference

The focus of Tedx is to “share ideas worth spreading,” giving individuals across the world a platform to broadcast their ideas. Unlike Ted conferences, Tedx conferences are organized and planned independently and by a community. This means that often these conferences have a focus on issues and ideas that are relevant to the place the conference is being held. By going online to their website and using the Tedx conference searcher, one can see the countless opportunities across the world to attend these conferences, ranging from themes like “Choices and Chances,” to “Transforming the World.”

tedex

These conferences are all held in English, making it infinitely easier to understand by the typical Gap Year student. There are a variety of different types of Tedx conferences, ranging from Tedx conferences organized by universities, youth events which are catered more towards youth and those in school and TedxWomen, a Tedx event with an emphasis on the topic of women and gender.

Experience a Student Leadership Conference

Designed to bring together like minded young people and to help you grow in your role as a leader, there are many student leadership conferences across the world that offer a unique experience. In the United States the National Conference on Student Leadership allows you to share your experience as a leader (and gap year student) with students from not only the US, but also the world. The International Youth Leadership Conference is another organization which offers events all over the world, mainly focused on discussing global issues and how to become a global citizen.

Conferences and opportunities for gap year students who are also student leaders are abundant. Universities often host their own student leadership conferences, and by participating in one of these conferences you can develop your own leadership skills while also meeting fellow students from around the globe.

Take a Stance!

In an article recently written by the Huffington Post, it was stated that “millennials are a generation overwhelmingly dedicated to social justice.” We do whatever we can to respond to the injustices we see around us. Whether that means checking in to Standing Rock on Facebook to show solidarity for the movement, writing emails to local government or marching in black lives matter rallies; millennials are a generation unwilling to allow the injustices of the past to continue unquestioned.

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Gap Year students are in a unique position to participate in movements and ideas around the world which are important to them. By remaining informed about the issues that interest them around the world, they can participate in a variety of forms of activism while traveling.

This includes participating in events like the annual pride parade in NYC every June or World Environment day, hosted by Canada on June 5 2017. For myself, this meant attending the 3rd International Youth Mental Health Conference in Montreal this past fall. There are a variety of opportunities for gap year students to become involved in forms of social justice while traveling by simply doing research on the causes most important to you.

Attend One Young World

A conference like no other, One Young World is held annually to bring together the brightest young change makers in the world. Last held in Ottawa, Canada this past September, the conferences always features many distinguished speakers, such as Justin Trudeau and Emma Watson. Over the course of a few days, One Young World allows young people around the world to meet with world leaders to work together and brainstorm lasting solutions on a variety of global issues.

This conference is aimed directly towards young people aged 18 to 30 years old who possess leadership skills and are committed to making positive change in the world. A range of issues is discussed over the course of the conference, including the impact of climate change, youth unemployment and how to create meaningful interfaith dialogue. If you, or someone you know is interested in attending, visit the conference’s homepage here to find more information!

Take a TEFL Course

A four week course that offers numerous opportunities, TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. A prerequisite to teaching English abroad, this certification is perfect for someone looking to travel and learn at the same time! With most courses starting at roughly $500 USD and requiring only 100 hours of class time, TEFL certificates can be attained at home before setting off on your travels or abroad, allowing you to learn and travel at the same time. Even if you don’t want to teach long term, having a TEFL certificate allows you to get paid while traveling, and to experience a foreign culture from an insider perspective.

So…where will your travels take you? Whether it means teaching English in South Korea or attending a Tedx conference in Toronto, the opportunities to self educate while on a gap year are endless. By seeking to learn more about the world around you, meaningful connections and lifelong memories will be made. Depending on how you look at it, any experience, good or bad can be a learning experience. It’s all about one’s willingness to learn.

How to Put a Gap Year on Your Resume

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Your backpack is officially empty and your socks no longer smell like the plague. You’re settling into life back home and are eagerly looking to the next steps in life. OR – you’re at the stage of life where you peek into your Gap Year memory box only when you’re feeling particularly nostalgic.

Whether you completed your trip yesterday, yesteryear, or yester-decade, here’s the advice you need to add some pop to that black and white list of credentials.

General Gap Year Resume Tips:

No matter if you’re fresh-off-the-plane or you ended your RTW adventure a few years ago, here are important things to keep in mind as you craft your resume and prepare to “Wow!” future employers or universities:

Reflect.

Without taking the time to really think about what you gained from your Gap Year that would be useful to future employers, you will have difficulty articulating its value. Pour a big cup of something warm (and ideally caffeinated) and spend time identifying the tangible takeaways from your big trip.

Focus on the skills learned.

Rather than giving a play-by-play of what you did (i.e. traveled to X number of countries or volunteered with sea turtles in Costa Rica), focus on the skills your acquired through the behemoth-learning-vehicle that is a Gap Year.

Put it in the right place.

If you weren’t gainfully employed on your Gap Year, don’t tack this under your “Work Experience” section. If you predominantly volunteered while traveling, add an entire section based on “Volunteer Experience.” You get the picture.

Know the audience.

Adapt your details and inclusions to be as useful or relevant to the person who will be reading your resume. College admissions counselor? Focus on academics. Fellowship granter? Focus on skills related to the goal of the fellowship. Scholarship board? Focus on your volunteer opportunities.

PRO TIP: My strategy is to create one giant document that outlines all of the possible details for communicating the value of my experiences, from travels and studying abroad to general volunteer and work experience. Whenever someone asks for a copy of my resume, I pick and choose the relevant details from my master document to craft a unique application/resume each time.

Friendly reminder: this isn’t your cover letter. Save your stories for your interview or your cover letter. Including your gap year on your resume should be a snapshot of the experience, not necessarily every (sordid) detail.

Tips for the Recently Returned

If your Gap Year is the main highlight of your resume (or at least the major TA-DA! You want to highlight), then here are the tips you need to follow.

How to provide details. Since you have a lot of space to work with, you can afford to communicate a few more details when explaining your Gap Year experience. Don’t fall victim to temptations of using flowery language. Use quantitative and qualitative metrics to communicate the value (ex: “Worked with kids to help improve their English” sounds good, but “Worked with 17 children under age 10 to improve their English from level 2 to level 4” sounds way more badass).

Is this for college admission or your first foray into the working world?
Don’t only focus on your Gap Year in your resume; you’ll want to communicate your breadth and depth of experience before/after your trip. High school clubs are a great inclusion, as well as any work with outside organizations, such as your place of worship or your community. You’ll probably have to include your GPA or standardized test scores (blah!), but these can be as small or big of a focus as you see fit.

Tips for Those Who Finished Their Gap Year Way-Back-When

Did you just turn the tassel after four years of study post-Gap Year? Are you ready for a career switch after climbing the corporate ladder for the first few years after your Gap Year? Keep these in mind:

Don’t skim over its value. Even if this happened a few years ago, your Gap Year was an incredibly unique (and cool) experience. Don’t dumb it down to just one line on your resume. It makes you stand out and be more memorable.

Determine placement. Since it’s been awhile since you completed this experience, you probably don’t want to put it smack-dab at the top of your resume. Write your most recent, relevant experience first, as this is deemed most valuable. Your Gap Year probably makes more sense in section two or further below. If you’re creating a creative digital resume, consider making it it’s own box!

Go Get Hired Already!

Be laser-focused and direct; rock that newfound confidence and independence, and keep the big picture in mind – if you don’t land the gig, it wasn’t for you. You more than anyone know there’s a great big world out there. Seize opportunities and enjoy the employment ride!

A Short History of the Gap Year

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clothes-travel-voyage-backpackWith the decision by President Obama’s daughter, Malia, to take a Gap Year after high school and before entering Harvard, the spotlight has been put on this increasingly popular stage in the development of individuals. Some commentators applaud Malia’s decision while others deride it.

Malia will not be the first member of a “first” family to take a Gap Year.

A major boost to the Gap Year concept was given when it got “royal approval” in Britain with Prince William taking a Gap Year before starting at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. Among his adventures he spent time sleeping in a hammock in the jungles of Belize, working on a dairy farm in the UK and laying walkways and teaching English in remote areas of southern Chile.
Catherine Middleton, whom he married also took a Gap Year before going to St Andrews. She spent time studying in Florence, Italy and crewed on Round the World Challenge yachts in races off the south coast of England. And, like her husband to be, whom she only met much later when they were both at St Andrew’s, she also spent time in Chile.

Because the Gap Year is a relatively new phenomenon in the USA where less than two per cent of students take a gap year after high school, it might be useful to know something of its background as a structured element of a young person’s education.

Considered an Essential Part of Education

As far back as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries young people of sufficient wealth undertook “The Grand Tour”, a year-long trip around the principal cultural centers of Europe. This was considered an essential part of the education of a gentleman.

In modern times the roots of the Gap Year movement can be traced to Britain. After World War II, all young men were conscripted at age 18 for two years of National Service in a branch of the armed forces, unless they were granted a deferment to continue their education and enlisted after graduation.

Looking back, this can be seen as a kind of enforced two-year Gap whether you were going on to further study or to join the workforce. It was a period that accelerated “growing up”. It was also a time when the majority, who had never been away from Mum and Dad and the comforts of home, could learn to fend for themselves. By the time that those who were going to continue their education arrived at the universities, they had matured in many ways that their professors contrasted favorably with younger entrants coming straight from secondary school.

National Service began to be phased out in 1957 and the last conscripts were demobilized in 1963. This uncovered a problem unique to the peculiar educational system in Britain. All universities in England and Wales, with the exception of Oxford and Cambridge based the selection of applicants on the grades they achieved in the final year examinations sat each year in July, known then as “A” levels. They would start as college freshmen that same year in September. But, candidates for the two ancient universities, even though they had taken their A levels and knew the results, had to stay in school for another trimester to take the Oxbridge entrance exam in December. Pass or fail, this group would find itself at a loose end until the following September/October. This nine months could be wasted or put to good use. (A few especially gifted students took this exam in December of their penultimate school year).

Gap Activity Projects & Frank Fisher

Enter GAP (Gap Activity Projects), brainchild of Frank Fisher, the celebrated headmaster of Wellington College, one of England’s premier independent schools which sent many pupils on to Oxford and Cambridge. His idea was to create a clearing house of structured activities that could be undertaken in this “fallow” period and would prove useful to the student as well as to the community at large. Fisher’s influence extended well beyond Wellington itself. He had been the Chairman of the Headmasters Conference, the association, or club, of the heads of Britain’s 200 elite boys schools and also established and taught a six-week course for men who had been selected to become head of one of these schools for the first time. This, of course, was in the time before Wellington, along with most other similar schools went co-ed.

It was during the 1970’s that I became associated with GAP as a volunteer public relations official. The organization was expanding to serve pupils at other schools well beyond the elite institutions and was increasingly part of the mainstream educational system. A small amateur start-up had come of age, separated from its parent and turned professional. It achieved charitable status in 1976.

Most of the activities on the GAP “menu” involved travel within or far outside the British Isles. Many involved manual work, a major change from the academic life the applicants had been used to and awaited them in their future careers. Most had a social purpose of some kind.
The GAP organization recently changed its name to Lattitude Global Volunteering to reflect its international outreach as well as to avoid confusion with the clothing store chain.

Gathering Early Data on Gap Year Students

After a few years there was a thick volume of case studies reporting on the experiences of gap year students (known in Australia, where taking a gap year has become the norm, as “gappies”). In addition to useful but rewarding assignments, there were some remarkable examples of what might be achieved by young people, not yet twenty years old. One small group used their Gap year to build an eye hospital for 200 patients in Bangladesh.

It was not long before many students, their parents and most especially many other universities began to recognize that a Gap Year, productively spent, had many advantages. Instead of being merely a way to ensure that young people could make productive use of an otherwise wasted nine months they saw that a gap year could be as important a part of a person’s development as one spent in the lecture hall.

Gap Years Have Clear Benefits

From the point of view of the universities, students who had taken a Gap Year arrived more mature and with greater ability to manage their lives. This in turn enhanced their academic performance, according to many college professors and administrators. A survey conducted in the USA found that students who include a Gap Year as part of their higher education experience earn college degrees in less than four years and are almost twice as likely to vote in national elections. The survey, which was conducted by Nina Hoe, PhD of the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University, interviewed 1,000 American Gap Year students and alumni ranging in age from 18-60 years old.

For the many students who wanted no delay in their education and went straight from school to university, the Gap Year became one after graduation and before beginning a lifetime’s career, very much on the line of the Peace Corps in the USA. Lattitude Global Volunteering caters to young people up to age 25 and reports that taking a Gap Year after college is becoming increasingly popular.

It did not take long before Wellington College’s offspring GAP Activity Projects was joined by a plethora of organizations – both commercial and charitable – offering Gap Year programs of all kinds. And the concept caught fire internationally so that now taking a Gap Year is the norm in many countries.

Nor is taking a Gap Year any longer reserved for the well-to-do. For families with limited financial means grants are available to students eager to do voluntary service. Other organizations specialize in arranging paid assignments. Some young people see a Gap Year (or two) as a period in which to earn and save for college fees so they do not end up burdened by excessive student loan debt.

Maybe Malia Obama’s decision will give a boost to the Gap Year concept in the USA making it as accepted a part of the educational trajectory as elsewhere.

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Michael Morley is the retired Deputy Chairman of Edelman, the world’s leading public relations firm, and author of two books on PR, published by Macmillan

Why I Decided to Take a Bridge Year

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I write in the dim airplane cabin, the glow of my laptop illuminating my face as the faint rumble of the engine forms a ceaseless background to the bustle of the flight attendants beside me. Sudden tremors of turbulence strike me as a representation of what lies at the end of this flight: the beginning of a journey that promises tribulation. As jet engines propel me ever farther away from my life of comfort and safety, the reality of what is to come seems all the more real.

All That Awaits Me in Ecuador for Certain is Uncertainty

In a few short hours, I will step foot into a nation where I am largely ignorant to the local language, culture, and customs with little concrete knowledge of where I will be staying or what I will be doing. Never before have I taken such a blind leap of faith into a new experience. Yet, somehow, as my new reality of discomfort draws closer, my breaths get deeper, my muscles relax, and a profound sense of calm envelops my being. Rarely during my regular schedule of rigorous academics and extracurriculars did I feel such a freeing sensation. It is striking how, in a quest to find peace, risk succeeded where routine failed.

Why?

To answer the question of why I decided to take a bridge year, I could call upon all of the logical reasons that my active involvement in an Ecuadorian community has the potential to be a mutually beneficial relationship that will prepare me to be a global leader. However, while this reasoning is absolutely valid, my pure response comes from a far deeper place. From the moment I learned of my acceptance to Global Citizen Year, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make my dream of taking a formative bridge year a reality. Buried within myself, I felt something drawing me towards unfamiliarity, new perspectives, and self-discovery. What I can only describe as my basic instinct recognized that which I needed most far before my methodically calculated self did, and I was immediately overcome with an overwhelming urge to follow my heart.

As I have taken the first steps of the impending marathon that is a Global Citizen Year, my confidence in my decision to participate has blossomed. Progressing through Pre-departure Training with some of the most insightful individuals I have ever met left me with a feeling of emotional fullness that I can only describe as being utterly, unconditionally alive.

After eighteen years of fulfilling societal expectations, I have finally stepped off the conveyor belt of traditional education and listened to the desperate voice within me that cries out that there must be something more. For the next eight months, I will seek education that transcends textbooks and lecture halls. Where I am going, every sunrise symbolizes a renewed opportunity to discover, to empathize, and to learn. All the pressure to “do” has been alleviated, and I am now free to just “be.” My blissful unfamiliarity with the Ecuadorian culture has empowered me to escape the role of an achiever and transition to that of an observer. Shedding the obligation to pursue tangible achievements has liberated me to focus simply on maintaining an open mind and open heart throughout the inevitable ups and downs that are to come.

At just the right time, I allowed myself to acknowledge the bridge year that was beckoning me to take part and, thanks to Global Citizen Year, I was able to say yes. Like an ongoing domino effect, that first yes has led me to Ecuador, where I promise to keep saying yes. Over and over, I will say yes to things that appear foreign, things that are challenging, and things that scare me. With “yes” at the tip of my tongue, I dive into the upcoming journey, and I cannot wait to see where it leads.

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Dominic Snyder is a Global Citizen Year Fellow in Ecuador. He is passionate about pursuing enlightening experiences and forging connections with people. He has had the opportunity to support his peers through a student counseling program, lead his school’s DECA and FBLA chapters, and travel to Japan and the Dominican Republic with summer abroad programs. His goals for his Global Citizen Year are to approach every moment as a chance for growth while maintaining an open mind and an open heart. He is inspired by the kindness, perseverance, and passion of his closest friends and family. Click here to check out Dominic’s blog.