How to Talk About Your Gap Year Without Annoying Everyone

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A nugget of wisdom from good ol’ Lorelai Gilmore:

“Hey, don’t you want to see it? Huh? The place where you’ll be living and studying and developing very naïve but pretentious world views that will come crashing down the minute you graduate?”

Whether you like it or not, your newly-enlightened worldview is still in some-ways idealistic. This is not a bad thing. I repeat. This is not a bad thing. But the reality is that even with the insane number of amazing experiences you now have under your belt, you still have a lot to learn, and humility will be your BFF as you navigate your post-Gap Year relationships and conversations.

Here are my best tips for talking about your Gap Year without everyone’s eyes glazing over.

How to NOT sound like an arrogant-annoyance

There’s no quicker movement from “0 to annoyed” than to constantly barrage your family and friends with the amazing stories you had while experiencing a much-cooler life than basically everyone else you know. Want to bypass this intersection?

 

Don’t be the one-upper

You know how you hear stories that instantly trigger memories about your own personal experiences? While it’s great to relate to others and communicate your empathy through sharing them, it can unfortunately devolve into a game of “my experience is more hardXXcore than yours.” Listen and react appropriately to others; don’t just wait for your chance to interject with something that’s all about YOU.

Cool it on the conversation policing, especially in public

Some of your friends and family might make comments that are inappropriate, inaccurate, or insensitive to other cultures. Instead of calling them out in the middle of a group, if you feel strongly about something they’ve said, take them aside independently and have a quick chat about it. Don’t embarrass them in front of others – but don’t let these false comments slide, either.

Integrate your experiences

If you are quick to tell others how much you support access to clean water or education equality in India, don’t let these interests lie solely in memories. Walk the talk and merge your newfound interests with your life back home. People will be more interested in hearing about your intensive Swahili course in Tanzania if you’re currently seeking opportunities in your home community (or heck, online) to continue developing that skill.

 

Mutual Interest is Key

While you were traipsing around the planet bringing new meaning to the word “globetrotter,” your family and friends were also having important experiences. They might have been ordinary or they might have been extraordinary. Regardless, they matter, and you need to let them know that.

Ask them questions, too

It’s called a dialogue, di-alogue, two. There’s not much fun if you’re the only one talking. Like a good ping pong match, toss questions back at them and inquire thoughtfully about their personal experiences while you were away.

Don’t minimize their experiences

Sometimes the things we say come off as a lot more harsher than we intend. For instance, “I could never live in <insert hometown> again” OR “Everyone here is so complacent. My greatest fear is to not really LIVE life and to just do the same thing day-in, day-out.” While you might feel all of these things, there are more sensitive (and less offensive) ways to say them. “I’m thankful for my experiences in <insert hometown>, but I want to try out living in other places” OR “One of my values is diversity of experience and staying active. This will manifest in my life in these ways: x, y, z.”

Tell them you love them and are thankful for them

It can be a little scary to see your best friend or your kid or your sibling jaunt off around the world to experience so much. Wouldn’t you feel a little insecure, too? Remind your closest friends and family that they matter to you, and that while you had a valuable experience striking off on your own, you couldn’t wait to come back to see them, hug them, hear how they’re doing, and start making more memories with them. Ah, love.

 

“How” to share versus “what” to share

We’ve already talked at length about how to answer the inevitable “How was it?” question after your travels. These tips are applicable even when responding to more detailed or specific questions. The secret is to know your audience and adapt your stories based on their expressed interest or their time availability.

The more conversations you have in the days, weeks, and yes – years – after your Gap Year will continuously illuminate new approaches to these discussions. You will stumble. You will annoy people. You will start to realize people avoid eye contact as they’re passing you on their way to class (okay, maybe that is extreme). But without a sincere effort to keep trying and to keep learning – not to mention that humility I alluded to earlier 😉 – you might stagnate.

Be transparent with your friends and family, maybe even going so far as to explain to them that you want to talk about your Gap Year but you don’t want to overwhelm or bore them with stories – asking them to be direct with you when you say something offensive offhand or are beating a dead horse.

Happy chatting and good luck!

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.

“A Visitor, Not A Victim!” – Staying Safe Traveling Overseas on a Gap Year

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Before you go to college, or when you are there, are you planning to enjoy the intellectual and memorable experience of traveling abroad? Last year approximately 300,000 American students traveled overseas; the majority had a great time and returned home safely. However, a few did not! They became victims of accidents, petty or serious crime and, occasionally, terrorism. As a result, I’m sure you share our concern for your safety when you go abroad.

The majority of these problems are avoidable if you are aware of the risks when overseas. In fact, most victims of crime unwittingly put themselves into a vulnerable situation. No doubt you are already aware of some of the “do’s and don’ts” when traveling, but are you sure you have considered all the issues that could arise?

  • How should you be prepared for a traffic accident which results in your being taken to a hospital unconscious?
  • How should you evacuate from a smoke filled, burning building?
  • How can you stay out of trouble when you travel to other cities in the region beyond your initial destination?

Study Abroad Safely 101

Study Abroad Safely is a web based course designed to address these questions – and many more. It was developed to prepare you for the security challenges you will face abroad – and to reassure your parents and family that you will be thoroughly prepared to look after yourself during your trip.

This course was conceptualized and designed through the collaboration of a former British Intelligence Officer and his wife, both of whom have worked and traveled all over the world, a former executive leader of one of the largest and most respected international educational exchange programs in the U.S., and a defense contractor who is a mother of three children, all of whom have participated in study abroad programs.

In under two hours, you and your parents can consider how you should prepare for the trip, how you need to maintain situational awareness during your visit abroad and how you, and they, should respond in every imaginable emergency situation. The course addresses medical and health issues in detail, how to avoid accidents, your security when you arrive and at your accommodation, and staying out of trouble when out and about during the day – and at night. It will enable you to enjoy your trip – and stay safe.

The course is fun to watch and provides travel safety recommendations that will remain applicable for the rest of your life beyond this particular trip.

AGA Discount!

The course is available through the American Gap Association for only $49 and can be viewed repeatedly over a period of 3 days. It concludes with a list of useful websites to assist your further pre-travel research and a template for the preparation of your personal Communications and Action Plan.

Enter the discount code: AGA-2016

When you are overseas, only one person is responsible for your personal safety and that person is you!

Watch this course so you will be a “Visitor, not a Victim”!

Endorsements

“I have been organizing groups of high school students traveling to all corners of the world for years. Although designed for university age students, I believe this course contains invaluable advice for all student travelers. I strongly recommend it to students, parents and any trip supervisors.”
Melissa Brown, Director of Global Education, Holton-Arms School, Bethesda, MD

“What you have done with these videos and their message is amazing! I enjoyed every minute of the tutorials. They thoroughly covered every situation as well as various methods of preparation necessary for any study abroad opportunity. Your program is the first time I’ve really felt that every possible scenario has been discussed and I was learning something new. It actually taught me a couple of new tricks.

It was both very informative and fun to go through. I recommend it to anyone before their first trip abroad or their next study abroad experience. It was wonderful to see that this program not only presented common situations for students and parents involved in study abroad, but it also emphasized the importance of respecting foreign culture and societal customs.
This program is worth watching, and I cannot wait to tell my friends and classmates about it!”
Kali B – College student

“I would recommend this program to everyone who will be studying abroad in the future! Through the knowledge I gained from this program I felt I was well suited while traveling abroad in Europe. The lessons I learned allowed me to be the only student in my group in Barcelona to not have experiences with stolen property. I felt comfortable while traveling abroad and owe that to this program.”
Courtney E – College student

“I thoroughly enjoyed the course. I now realize the importance of preparation for my future trips abroad and how I can better look after myself while I’m away. I was also surprised to learn how the US Embassies overseas could help me in an emergency. I would recommend this course to all my friends who are traveling overseas.”
Megan S. – High school student and Summer Immersion Program participant

How to Maximize Your Gap Year Through Continuous Reflexive Learning

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Taking a Gap Year is a great way to experience new things, you wouldn’t otherwise have time for later on. The things you do, and learn throughout this period can provide you with a wealth of knowledge you can harness for years to come, if you know how to use these experiences to their fullest.

Before you begin your Gap Year, it might be a good idea to consider joining a Gap Year program. This way, you’ll make sure that you have a sound plan when it comes to how you’re going to spend your time during this period.

Taking a full year off before you go to college might seem like a very long time. But as a learning experience, it’s relatively short. Think about how long it takes to become a certified nurse, for example. More than that, the information you will be receiving will be more or less unstructured. You won’t have a teacher besides you, explaining what everything means, and what you should be looking for. That’s where reflexive learning comes in.

What is Reflexive Learning?

Reflexive learning is much more than just accumulating information, and being able to reproduce it later. That’s basically the traditional, didactic mode of teaching. A professor stands in front of the classroom, and talks about their subject, while the students take down that information, and learn it, in order to pass their exams. However, rarely do you get a chance to think about how you can apply that information in real life situations. And rarely do you get a chance to find new ways of combining those bits of information, to reach new ideas.

A reflective learner takes charge of the learning process. Apart from gathering information, you’re also responsible for putting it together, and then assessing the results of this process. More and more colleges are opting for this mode of learning, even when it comes to training their own staff.

It helps you become more aware of your understanding of the world around you, your biases, and preferences. In the long run, it can help you become more efficient in your learning process, and more quick to adapt to new situations. Reflexive learning should become a habit, to get the most out of your learning experience, no matter where you may stumble upon them.

Reflexive Learning Takes Practice

This type of learning requires a lot of practice for it to become effective. Encountering different cultures is known to be a trigger for reflexive thinking, because it shed new light on many things that you are accustomed to, and tend to take for granted. Using your gap year as an opportunity to travel, and discover new cultures can be one of the most life changing experience you can have.

Observing the way other cultures understand and deal with similar problems provides you with an opportunity to think about the ways in which you deal with certain issues, and how much of that practice has to do with your culture, rather than your own inclinations. You discover ways of dealing with certain situations that are much more efficient, because they will feel more natural to you.

Training yourself to reflect upon your personal experiences is also going to give a head start when it comes to college. For teachers, it may quite difficult to find the perfect method to deliver their classes so all of their students benefit from it, when they have to deal with dozens, or hundreds of people.

Get to Know Yourself & Others

The skill you will have gained during your Gap Year is going to help structure information in such a way as to help you retain it, and use it later on. And the experiences you will have gained are going to provide you with something to which you can compare and contrast the information you receive in college.

And use this time to learn about how the world works, and more importantly, about how people are. Really get to know all the people you meet along the way. And don’t just focus on what they have to offer. Think about yourself, and how you relate to them as well. The truth is, you’re never going to be able to understand someone fully. But you have a good chance to know yourself in depth. And the best way to understand things about you is in relation to others.

After your Gap Year is over, you shouldn’t let all of those memories, and teachings gather dust. Any encounter can be a learning experience, as long as you use it as such. The only time wasted is the time not spent learning something new. Take every opportunity you get to challenge your preconceptions, and make reflexive learning a life-long habit.

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About the author: Amanda Wilks is a Boston University graduate and a part-time writer. She has a great interest in everything related to career-building advice and entrepreneurship and loves helping people reach their true potential.

Student’s Guide to Voting From Abroad

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For most Gap Year travelers and study abroad participants this November’s Presidential election will be the first they’ve been eligible to vote in. Becoming a voting member of one’s country of citizenship is a rite of passage and an important step into participation in the adult community.

In spite of the growing disillusionment with the political process, voting remains the most significant way “we the people” have to make our voices heard and have a hand in the direction our country takes, both domestically and within the international community. It’s vital that every adult do their civil duty, become educated about the issues that matter most, the positions of the candidates, and vote their conscience on November 8th.

But what happens if you’re out of the country, either participating in a study abroad program, or on your Gap Year?

You can still vote, and you should make the effort to.

Voting ahead of time, from outside the country, involves voting by absentee ballot. What that means is that you apply, in advance, to have your ballot delivered to you abroad and you send it in by the deadline. The tricky part, of course, is that the deadlines for both applying for your absentee ballot and submitting your vote vary by state.

Check your state’s absentee ballot request and absentee ballot return deadlines here.

The Steps to Voting From Abroad

Voting from outside the USA is not difficult, but it does take some pre-planning. You can’t remember on the morning of the election and just stop by your local polling center before work, like you could at home. People who travel and who are living outside the USA have to go the extra mile to exercise their right to vote. It is worth the effort.
Here’s the process for voting from abroad:

  • Register to vote
  • Request your absentee ballot
  • Vote
  • Return your absentee ballot

Register to Vote

The first step is to know whether or not you are registered to vote. You can check your voter registration status online, easily.

If you ARE registered to vote, great! The next thing to do is request your absentee ballot.

If you ARE NOT registered to vote then you need to get registered.

31 states and the District of Colombia allow you to register online. The others require you to register in person (this may be a problem if you are already outside the USA and won’t return before the election.

Keep in mind that there will be a voter registration deadline and they vary by state.

If you need to register to vote, you can do so online, or in person, or by mail. This site will help you know which options your state allows.

Sometimes, you can register to vote AND request your absentee ballot at the same time, with the same form (that’s what I did, for New Hampshire) so you might have a look at the next step and see if you can roll two steps into one in your state.

Check out this 12 step explanation of how to register to vote that covers all of the variables.

How to Request Your Absentee Ballot

When requesting your absentee ballot you’ll find that there are lots of options and support services online. Here are three that are reputable and can help you get your ballot in time to vote:

Federal Voter’s Assistance Program

This is a tried and true federal organization that specializes in helping Service members and Americans living overseas to vote. They have step by step directions, printable forms and all the details you need.

Youth Vote

This is a non-partisan site dedicated to helping people vote. They’ve got a very handy Student’s Studying Abroad page with the links you need to get started and information specific to students abroad and voting.

They also provide a printable Study Abroad and Vote Toolkit that is perfect for program providers, teachers, or political organizers to hand out to students to help get them started on the process.

Overseas Vote 

Also non-partisan, Overseas Vote works specifically with Americans living abroad and Service members to facilitate voter registration and absentee voting. This site has all of the necessary forms and links to state by state information, as well as a candidate finder, in case you aren’t sure who is running in your state or district for a particular election.

Vote from Abroad

This is the site I used to print the forms for my own absentee ballot request. For the state of New Hampshire, I was also able to register to vote on the same form. Very handy! Use the drop down menu to determine which sort of voter you are (are you temporarily abroad, or out of the USA longer term?) and follow the step by step prompts until you’re instructed to print your forms. You’ll have a few things left to fill out by hand on the form, but much of it is auto filled based on the information you’ve entered. They even print out the envelope label for you so that there is no chance of an error in mailing!

Vote!

The next step is to wait for your absentee ballot to arrive. Depending on how you’ve requested to receive it, it might come by postal mail or email. You’ll then need to fill it out, voting for your candidates of choice in your local and federal elections, and mail it in by the deadline.

If your vote does not arrive by the deadline for your state, it may not be counted! Be sure to double check the absentee voting deadlines for your state and mark them on your calendar!

Return Your Absentee Ballot

Maybe it seems obvious, but this is the most important step. Even if you’re registered, even if you get your ballot, even if you fill it out… if you don’t mail it back to the right place at the right time, you haven’t voted!

Don’t forget to MAIL your absentee ballot!

Who Do I Vote For?

Voting is a civic duty and it’s serious business. Part of living in a democratic country is taking part of the responsibility for who is running the show. That’s what we do when we vote. As you begin to take your place as an adult in the community, becoming a thoughtful and informed voter is part of that responsibility. It’s not enough to listen to soundbite political commercials! You must do your homework. Understand the candidates positions on the issues that matter to you, and vote your conscience for the good of the country.

How do you get beyond the noise and learn more about the candidates policies?

Perhaps the most obvious way is to visit the websites of each of the candidates and read for yourself. Follow the debates, and educate yourself on the issues. This is a big job!

If you’re wondering how to compare the candidates, side by side, with what matters to you, there are several online tools to do that.

2016 Candidate Comparison
This site is a wealth of useful information. On the right, as you scroll down you’ll see a comparison of the Democratic and Republican candidates positions on all of the major issues. You can click on a particular candidate and get a detailed description as well as their positions on the issues and links to further information. Even the third party and minority candidates are thoroughly covered. They’ve also got a list of the scheduled debates (right at the top, on the right) so that you can mark your calendar and watch!

Inside Gov
This site compares all of the presidential candidates side by side. A handy drop down on the left side allows you to select your position on issues and then match candidates who share your views.

No matter where your research takes you, it’s important to remember the bias of the person or organization writing. Try to find sources that are non-partisan, and read as widely as you can, from a variety of perspectives (even those you might disagree with!) to educate yourself thoroughly on all sides of an issue.

Further Inspiration

Still not convinced that you should vote? Read on:

Guide to Voting Overseas by Nomadic Matt

10 Reasons to Vote as a Student

10 Reasons Why Students Should Vote

Let your voice be heard! Vote!

Photo Credit: Theresa Thompson

The Unbelievable Career Advantages of Taking a Gap Year

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There are plenty of reasons why you should consider taking a Gap Year. Finishing high school, and moving on to college is a pretty big step. You should take some time to mark this transition, and really internalize the importance of this moment. A Gap Year shouldn’t be just a period in which you can take some time to relax, though that’s pretty important as well. You should use this opportunity to figure out what you’re going to do further on, and prepare for your future career.

Taking a Gap Year is a smart decision, no matter what you decide to do with it. But if you’re going to take some time off, you should try to maximize the potential benefits of this period.

Gap Years Improve Your Job Prospects

Gap Years can be immensely useful for your future job prospects. There are some who consider taking Gap Years even after they’ve finished college, and are already employed. Even though they’re motivation for taking a mid-career break is somewhat different than yours, taking some time off before you’ve settled into a career might save you the time and hassle of having to do it later.

Many employers say they value work experience over education. This should not be taken as a plea in favor of abandoning college all together. Having a college degree is a given, for most candidates, so naturally employers are going to look for relevant experience, that can set them apart. Finding work during your Gap Year might seem like a difficult task, but there are ways you can maximize your chances of landing a job that can help you gain that all important work experience.

Use Your Gap Year to Experiment

Your Gap Year is the perfect time to experiment, and explore different career paths. That way, you’re going to have a head start when it comes to investing in the training for your chosen career. You can use the experience you’ve gained during this period to find a major that suits you, and perhaps even find part-time job during college, so you can continue to work on your CV while you study.

Develop New Skills

And for most jobs that require a college degree, apart from work experience, and a relevant skill set that relates directly to your field, most employers value soft skills as well. Soft skills can only be acquired through daily practice. That’s not to say you can only develop them during your Gap Year. You’re probably going to keep on learning, and practicing all throughout life. But during this time you’re going to find more diverse opportunities to put your skills to the test, in situations you might not encounter otherwise. These are immensely valuable experiences you should not dismiss. These are the kind of things that are going to make your resume stand out later on.

Gap Years are also great opportunities to learn foreign languages. In an increasingly globalized work market, knowing more than one language is going to make you an immensely valuable employee, regardless of your field. And the sooner you start learning, the easier it’s going to be. Plus, it is much more easy to learn a foreign language when you’re living within that culture, than it is to learn from books, and CDs.

Leverage Your Blog in Your Job Search

You can start documenting your Gap Year experience through a personal blog, or personal web page. This can be the basis of a future portfolio, if you’re considering starting a career as a freelancer. It’s going to help you meet, and bond with people who share passions similar to yours. The people you connect with via these experiences, either directly, or via your blog are going to form the network of people you can rely on when you start hunting for a job. Often times, knowing the right people is more valuable than anything else. Because people would rather hire someone they know, and trust, rather than a person who looks good on paper, but might not be such a great person in real life.

If you’ve already set your heart on a specific field, consider the skills you won’t be learning in college. During these months, instead of trying to learn ahead for your future courses, try learning something you might not have time to learn later. You never know when those skills might come in handy, and having a vast array of skills is going to stand out in the eyes of any employer. Plus, you might discover something you enjoy that you’ve never considered before.

There are nay-sayers who believe that Gap Years are just a waste of time. But the truth is the only time that’s really wasted is the one not spent learning something. Your Gap Year can be incredibly valuable for your future job prospects if you take full advantage of the opportunity.

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About the author: Marc Mendelman is a Junior HR consultant and a Contributing Editor at Today Assistant. He is passionate about identifying daily work hacks and creating ways of increasing personal and professional productivity. You can contact Marc at marc.mendelman@gmail.com

How to Find the Best Work for Your Gap Year

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Gap Years are a great opportunity to get to know yourself, and find out what truly makes you tick. You can use these months to prepare for college, and gain some experience for the years ahead. It’s good chance to try out different jobs, before you figure out what field suits and settle in.

If you’re looking to find work during your Gap Year, you should know beforehand what it is you want. It’s a good idea to make out a plan before your start your Gap Year. Bear in mind how much time you actually have, and whether or not you’re the type of person who needs a very well structured plan. Even if you think you don’t, it’s always useful to have a backup plan for every situation. Make out a list of options that seem appealing, and see what you would need to put them in practice. It might seem like tedious work right now, but it’s going to save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

If you find it difficult to make out a list of options yourself, you can go to a professional career advisor, or a Gap Year consultant. Gap Year consultants can help you plan out your year according to your goals. They can help you figure out the jobs you are qualified for, not just from the perspective of your skills, but your own personal wants. They can assist you in drawing up a list of abilities to highlight during your next job interview. Gap Year consultants can help you set up a plan for this whole period.

Volunteer

If you lack work experience, try adding some volunteer work to your resume. Volunteering can provide you with numerous benefits. It can be useful to make your resume stand out during interviews for paid jobs. Many universities are also interested in students who are proven to be proactive, and willing to gain experience. Through volunteer work, you can also meet a lot of interesting people that might help you find a job further down the line.

Develop Your Resume

When applying for a job, you’ll probably be asked to send in a CV. Don’t look at this as a mere formality. Spend some time learning how to write a proper resume. Don’t neglect your cover letter either. Since you probably don’t have a lot of work experience yet, your cover letter is the best way you can impress your prospective employer right now.

Consider an Internship

Internship programs offer a similar experience. Unlike volunteer work, internships can turn into an actual paid position, provided you can prove to your employer that you are qualified for the job, and you have what it takes to take on more difficult tasks. Some internships are paid, but most of the time you’ll still be unpaid. Look for internship programs that are aimed at students.

Temp Jobs

Going for temp jobs is a smart way of finding work during your Gap Year. Some recruiters might be reluctant to hire someone who is going to leave their job in a year. Temp positions are specifically designed when work overflow is just too much to handle, but not enough to warrant bringing on new employees.

Entry Level Jobs

If you want to maximize your chances of landing a paid job quickly, try finding an entry level position with a large company that usually needs a lot of employees. These companies are more likely to hire students for their, with little to no work experience. They generally offer training programs, so you don’t have to worry about your lack of skills in that particular field.

Develop Your Qualifications

You should also work on your qualifications during this period. Most employers require at least a high school diploma, so if you want to beat your competition, you’re going to have to do better than that. Getting a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification is a very popular way of finding job opportunities abroad. Other training opportunities, such as apprenticeships or traineeships, combine the benefits of a paid job with those of a training program.

Don’t Neglect Networking

Networking is a sound strategy to find job opportunities in general, not just during your Gap Year. Meeting people in informal settings can be a great way to make new friends, and casually mention that you are interested in finding work. However, the best way to meet new people and scout for job openings is going to career fairs. Bringing up work in informal settings might feel a bit awkward. Job fairs are specifically designed to bring recruiters and prospective employees together. Talking to recruiters one-on-one before an interview gives you an opportunity to ask for advice, and receive some guidelines from professionals. Preparing a list of questions for recruiters will prove to them that you are genuinely interested in finding a job.

Leverage Social Media

You can try following the pages, and Twitter accounts, of the companies you might be interested in. Subscribe to the newsletters of companies, and job application platforms, to be the first in line when a new job opening is announced. The sooner you submit your application, the better your chances of getting the job.

If you’re trying to meet new people in order to secure a job, you should keep your social media pages in order. Your employer might want to check your Facebook page, while looking you up, so you should keep it as professional as possible. Your e-mail address should look similarly professional.

Don’t Give Up!

One of the common mistakes students make when looking for a job is that they give up to soon. You should apply for a lot of jobs before you can hope to get picked. This process may take a while. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t land a job immediately.

Your Gap Year can be a wonderful experience that enhances your career path moving forward as long as a you keep an open mind, and your goals in sight.

Amanda Wilks is a Boston University graduate and a Contributing Editor at Job Application Center. She has a great interest in everything related to job-seeking, career-building, and entrepreneurship and loves helping people reach their true potential.

Photo Credit: Startup Stock Photos

Gap Years in the Media

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In the wake of Malia Obama’s announcement, in May, that she intends to take a Gap Year, deferring her enrollment to Harvard until the fall of 2017, there has been an increase in media coverage around Gap Years and the students who take them.

Of course we’ve been tracking these stories, and today we’d like to share some of them with you. From personal stories of individual students taking a Gap Year, to how to best prepare and organize the logistics, to concept pieces surrounding why and how a Gap Year can be a good idea within certain educational tracks, there is a lot of buzz building.

Women Using the “Gap Year” to Close the Gender Gap

Dr. Gregory F. Malveaux is the author of Look Before Leaping: Risks, Liabilities and Repair of Study Abroad in Higher Education. In this article he focuses on the ways in which women are using the Gap Year to close the gender gap in STEM fields and then goes on to address some of the safety concerns that parents of girls often voice in sending young women abroad.

“The reality is that women are “leading” the new evolution in study abroad, pushing for more high-impact programs for career growth and marketability. This is true in “male dominant disciplines.” Women are taking gap years to gain currency and expertise in highly competitive fields. Study Abroad institutions and groups are heeding the call to meet their demand.”

Malia Obama is Taking a Gap Year Before Harvard: Here’s Why That’s a Great Idea

Jeremy Berke, for Business Insider, wrote:

“According to Robert Clagett, a former dean of admissions at Middlebury College and former senior admissions official at Harvard, students who take gap years, like Obama, “will frequently be more mature, more focused, and more aware of what they want to do with their college education” when they do enroll in college.

And data reflects his observations: At Middlebury, researchers found that students who took a gap year have shown a “clear pattern” of attaining higher GPA’s than those that didn’t take gap years, even controlling for the student’s performance in high school.

Beyond GPA, students experience positive results.

Gap years allow students a trial period — without schoolwork or the pressures of testing and deadlines — to figure out what they’re passionate about.”

We happen to agree! Read the whole article for more data and first hand experiences from Gap Year Students.

Should Your Child Do a Gap Year?

Psychology Today published a piece by Marty Nemko, Ph.D., that addresses the concerns that parents have when considering a Gap Year. He breaks down the reasons that it might be a very good idea to encourage a student towards a year of experiential education instead of pushing forward with an academic track.

“Even if your child’s first-choice college doesn’t offer a gap year, it still may be wise to do one. When your child applies again to college, if the gap time is being spent wisely, s/he’ll have an excellent chance of being readmitted. S/he will also have a better chance of being admitted to a more selective college. The latter is only sometimes a good idea: Some students are better off being a big fish in a less selective pond.”

6 Reasons You Should Take a Gap Year

Still on the fence about whether or not you should take a Gap Year? Go Abroad lays out six of the best reasons, from personal development to academic success, for taking that year “on.”

“To some people, gap years are synonymous with trust-fund kids lolling around on a beach, but they can be so much more! A gap year is not necessarily a “break” or a time off. It’s a time on, just on in a different way.

There is a lot that can be done with a gap year – volunteer, work, intern, travel, independent study, or all of them combined. You could take a gap year immersed in one community, or hop around the world. Choose a year long program, or create your own by mixing and matching opportunities.”

The Inherent Value in Gap Years for All Students, Not Just the 1%

Challenging the idea that only children of wealthy families can take advantage of the benefits a Gap Year affords, Julia Rogers discusses the value of Gap Years for all students and highlights some of the options for those of us who don’t have access to an unlimited bank account.

“I don’t believe it’s useful to try and pigeonhole the gap year concept as appropriate for only one type of student. Millennials face a vast array of challenges when entering adulthood that sometimes correlate with their socioeconomic status, but sometimes not. Rather, the gap year should be framed as an opportunity to creatively address the different challenges that students face in the year leading up to college.

For example, low income and first-generation college students can sometimes arrive at college academically unprepared and with additional stressors that unfortunately lead to high dropout rates. According to experts, creating access to support networks and developing life skills are known to improve retention and graduation rates. Promoting a fully-funded, mentored experiential program aimed at preparing students for college would undoubtedly lead to better outcomes for these students once they arrive on campus. There are already several programs in place that offer financial aid and fill this niche (such as Global Citizen Year, Dynamy Internship Year and Carpe Mundi).”

 

Photo Credit: Lionello DelPiccolo

Dominique Robinson of Pizarts: On Breaking Ground with Dance Gap Years

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One of the great things about the AGA National Conference is the connections we make with new people. Among the bright lights in Boston this year was Dominique Robinson. I noticed her smile first, and her enthusiasm followed closely behind. She’s got a passion for life, a passion for learning and a big idea: to create a Gap Year experience centered around dance and the arts. Based in NYC, she came to the conference hoping to learn and connect.

Please tell us who you are, what you do, and how you got there.

My name is Dominique Robinson, I am a choreographer, dance filmmaker, and the CEO of Pizarts. Growing up I enjoyed sports and being part of a team. I also have a deep passion for travelling so when I transitioned from sports to dance I knew I could pursue dance as a career that would allow me to do what I love which is travel around the world and meet new people.

Why are you so passionate about the concept of Gap Years?

I began my training in college and although it was a good experience the first three years were overwhelmingly tough. I lacked confidence in myself and it was terrifying to share my ideas. One summer I studied dance in Argentina and after the trip I knew that I wanted to collaborate with artists on a global scale. A few years later I moved back to Argentina where I taught, performed and traveled for 18 months. This transformation led me to discover my passion which was education and so I decided to further my studies.

Graduate school was a completely different experience because I knew exactly what I wanted to study, I could express myself with confidence and I can honestly say that it would not have been possible without taking what I consider myself as an independent Gap Year. I am so passionate about Gap Year because I know that I would have retained so much more from my undergraduate program had I come into school with a Gap Year under my belt.

Pizarts may just be the only Gap experience of its kind.

Tell us a bit about what you’re doing with that and your vision for the future.

Yes, I do believe it is one of a kind and that is partly what drove me to pursue it. Dance Gap Year is a program designed for trained dancers where they get to experience the joy of taking a Gap Year without having to neglect the demands of their training. It combines a curriculum inspired by BA (pedagogy and arts management) and BFA (choreography and performance) degree tracks while including projects that impact the social and personal lives of participants and locals.

Students who take our Gap Year immerse themselves in all aspects of a dance career before entering directly into the audition world or entering a program in higher education. We have a short-term summer program for teens 13-17 and in the fall of 2017, we will have our first 7 month Gap Year for ages 18-25 that will include North America, South America and Asia. Through this experiential process dancers will explore things like dance film, theater, site location composition, integrated arts (movement and literacy), curating works on a budget and women’s empowerment through movement.

Our vision for the future is to set up programs that focus on specific techniques. Ballet dancers for example need to train many hours in ballet. By offering a travel program for dancers to explore different techniques such as RAD, Checcetti, Vaganova and Bornenville, I believe, will allow a unique opportunity for participants to expand their horizons.

You’re in the beginning stages of getting Pizarts off the ground

Can you talk a little bit about that process, your biggest struggles, the connections you’ve made and your process from dream to dancing around the world?

While finishing my last semester at NYU, I entered the ‘Entrepreneurs Challenge’ at Stern School of Business. I am the type of person who needs benchmarks or my mind will wonder so this challenge was the beginning of establishing a concrete plan. Since I have a large following in Argentina within the dance community, I felt Gap Year represented what I was looking for in terms of my passion and interest as a start-up.

To learn more, I went to a Gap Tear fair where I met Holly Bull who told me that dance had been an interest of a recent client and that she would put me in touch with people who could provide me with helpful advice on starting a program.

The greatest struggles include finding resources in the area of logistics like contracts, safety measures and how to devise affordable programming. Nevertheless, going to the Gap Year conference really helped me network with trusted groups that otherwise I don’t believe I would have met on my own.

Tell me a success story

A life changed as a result of a your work, or something you were involved in.

In dance, a lot of issues surround the non-compete clause for both teachers and students. The hardest thing I ever experienced as a teacher was watching a student, after 8 months of private training, be given a harsh ultimatum. Stop training with me or leave the studio she performed at. I explained that I would be leaving in a few months but she thought it was an unfair situation, as did I, and decided to stand up for herself.

When nationals came around I told her I would take her to competition. To see her separated from her studio friends was devastating and I could see the hurt in her eyes. I insisted that this would be life changing because she decided to breakout and be the dancer and person she believed in. She won first place at nationals for her solo and her friends were proud of her, I was proud of her and now she has become one of the most sought out teachers in Argentina and works as a Gap Year guest choreographer.

I am not sure I would have had the courage she had but I am so proud to say that this experience has created another educator who believes that knowledge is to be shared and not controlled. For me, this was a proud moment and proof that we are working towards something special, something life changing, something for the greater good.