What to Do When Your Student Comes Home a Different Person

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The countdown has dwindled (to your great joy, to your kid’s great despair) and the end of the Gap Year is now upon us! You look up from the kitchen table to see your child on the couch and it’s like a year hasn’t passed. But it did, and while your child might look the same more or less (save for that new tattoo?!), their mind and soul might be a little different.

Getting to know that new person takes time. We know you love them, but how do you set both guardians and child up for success when they come back and they aren’t quite like you remember.

Before They Come Home

Establish open lines of communication. Before the Gap Year, during, and especially after; it’s important that you’re able to “talk it out” with your kid. If you have expectations for their participation in, or attendance to, certain family affairs, let them know in advance. Invite them to help plan meet up’s or other obligations – your kid will appreciate that you value their input. Ask them, as well, what they’d like to do in their first few weeks home. Discussing what these first few weeks will look like can help mitigate any misunderstandings.

Discuss curfew, chores, and house rules. Your kid just experienced a whirlwind of independence – anywhere from choosing their own meals (and meal times) to deciding when they want to leave the house and when they don’t. That degree of independence can be liberating, but you must discuss with your child if self-government holds up in your household.

  • Can significant others stay the night?
  • Is drinking permitted?
  • Should curfews be abided by?

Instead of deciding top-down how their life back home after their Gap Year is going to look, have a dialogue about what would be best for both parties.

Remind them you love them. When you come back to a life that feels entirely different, with a new sense of self and new life goals, insecurities can be quick to bubble up.

  • “What if they don’t like me now?”
  • “What if I don’t fit in anymore?”
  • “How am I going to end that relationship?”

These questions can lead to much vulnerability. Tell your kid, time and again, that you love them for who they are, who they are becoming, and for who they were. Prepare a soft landing for them in this tumultuous period of their lives.

The First Weeks Home

Transition your “role” as parent – not as a lawmaker, but as an adviser. Your kid will be navigating a LOT of emotions as they return home, not least of which is their newfound self-sufficiency and relative “adulthood.” As a parent, it’s critical that you offer support during this period and a backboard of advice. You can talk about the gambit – their life abroad, their next life plans, college, grades, relationships, friendships. But ask out of genuine curiosity and with a willingness to offer objectivity or new perspectives, not to mine for reasons to chastise or punish your kid. This will help establish healthy boundaries as your wee one is growing up.

Remember: you might be different, too.

Just as your kid coming back might not feel like the same ol’ Timmy or Susie, you might feel different to them, too. Maybe having an empty-nest shed new insights on your personal life, maybe you’ve offered forgiveness to someone you swore you never would, maybe you love Pilates or the Pittsburgh Pirates now. Whatever it is, keep in mind that you’re also a dynamic individual and your kid might have a hard time adjusting to your “new you.”

Don’t Pressure Your Kid to Maintain Old Habits

If your child comes back a vegetarian, don’t make their favorite ribs for a “Welcome home!” meal. Maybe your child has expressed concerns about their lethargy, their apathy, or their inability to focus on getting important things taken care of. Rather than tempt them to join you for a last-minute movie spree, encourage them to maintain and actively pursue their goals.

Remind them you love them! This is just good advice all-around, and worth mentioning again.

When your child returns from abroad, they’ll be experiencing a heavy dose of reverse culture shock. While it’s a difficult psychological experience for your kid, it can also do a number on Mom and Dad (or other guardians). Be patient with your child as they figure out what their life back home looks like after all of their time away. Their new self will be your favorite version of themselves before you know it!

Keeping in Touch With Your Gap Year Friends

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Leaving home to Gap Year for a semester or year is fertile ground for making new friends. Together, you trip and stumble and fall and giggle through the language barriers, conquer unexpected challenges, and actively explore your new sense of freedom. You quickly start to question your lifestyle back home, and get to shed your past and start fresh. You meet people from all different walks of life and challenge your conventional norms. Who wouldn’t want to do this hand in hand with a rad person who totally “GETS IT?”

Your bestie from abroad is a special gal/guy, and it’d be a shame to let your tight bond go to waste just because you’re in separate time zones. Here are some ideas for keeping in touch with your Gap Year BFF!

Share the mundane details of life

Since your Gap Year BFF is probably on the other side of the country, you will be tempted to limit your conversations to memories of your shared lives and adventures back on the other side of the pond. While it’s fun to reminisce, it isn’t a great foundation for the growth of a longterm friendship.

Gap Year BFF’s Jamie and Grey share: “Our joint love for Ghana was the cornerstone of our friendship, but it was important for us to continue building it beyond that.”

When telling stories, use the actual names of your friends and your professors. Talk to him/her about what’s really going on. Avoid generalizing or skipping over things because you’re busy or think he/she doesn’t care. Talk to him/her the same way you would talk to your BFFs at school – about EVERYTHING. He/she deserves to know, and probably wants to, too!

Kick it old school with snail mail and commit to phone dates

Who doesn’t just LOVE getting care packages?! Take the time to put a little lovin’ in a box/envelope and drop it in your local post box for your gal pal across the country.

While it will be tempting to back out every now and then, avoid falling into a habit of breaking your phone or Skype dates. Texting and snapchatting and giving them a little #TBT shout out every now and then is good and all, but is it enough?

Introduce your @home besties & him/her

We have a hunch that your besties in your hometown or at your university would be huge fans of your new friend, too. Take the time to get everyone involved in the lovefest!

For instance, Jamie’s other friend Meredith was pumped when BFF Grey posted a funny photo on him/her Facebook wall.

This step can look as simple as friending one another on social media or following each other on Instagram. Having the groundwork laid pre-tip #4 will only enrich him/her experience being welcomed into your home communities.

Invite your Gap Year BFF for a visit!

Step 1: Think about how AWESOME would it be to show your life back home to your Gap Year bestie?!

Step 2: Invite them over.

Step 3: Nag them until they buy their plane ticket!

Introducing your BFF to your life at school or your life back home will strengthen your relationship. Now, she’ll be able to put a face to all those names, totally “get” why you couldn’t get over that guy, and better understand why you called the gelato in Italy second-best to your favorite diner ice cream in your hometown.

Gap Year BFFs Madeline and Marley can’t wait to reunite in Seattle later this year. “We met while studying abroad and just clicked!” said Madeline,

Marley joked, “It’s hard to tell if me or my mom are more excited for him/her visit this summer! ….And I secretly want to set her up with my brother.”

Plan your next joint adventure abroad!

Before even leaving the hills of New Zealand, Gap Year BFF’s Karinne and Olivia were already scheming ways to return together. A few weeks later they had a full fledged plan to get jobs, save up money, attend community college, and then come back the following spring.

Having a common goal to work towards together and a loving buddy who can hold you accountable to your commitments is a surefire way to keep the travel stoke AND the BFF stoke alive.

Jamie agrees: “Grey and I couldn’t wait to get back to Ghana. We did some independent research, contacted a local NGO outside of Accra, booked our plane tickets and returned the following summer. It was amazing, especially to be able to do it with someone who ‘gets’ me.”

Did you hit the jackpot or WHAT? Not only did you get to travel abroad and check out life in amazing foreign countries, you also got to share your experience with a new BFF. You lucky thing, you!

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!

Should I go to College After my Gap Year?

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You’ve tackled the world. You’ve marched confidently off the beaten path (even if your heart broke a little as your friends all shared first-year experiences as college freshmen). You’ve grown leaps and bounds, and are excited at the prospect of continuing to grow and learn. But you’re wondering: is college the next best move for me in my life? Is it a conducive environment to the type of growing and learning I want to do?

The Value of a College Degree

There are a lot of benefits to attending college and earning an undergraduate degree. Oftentimes, these benefits are intangible (and don’t necessarily make their way onto your transcript). While classes are important and developing solid relationships with your professors ideal, there’s a lot of growth that happens out of the classroom, too.

There are myriads of clubs and causes to get involved with. There are passionate, weird, different, eclectic, normal people – all within close confines – and you learn how to interact effectively with each of them. There are folks with mindsets and philosophies and perspectives you’ve never been exposed to. There is training in how to think critically, how to argue productively, and how to compose logical statements. Plus, it’s fun (late night pizza, anyone?!).

That Being Said…

A college degree isn’t for everyone. Some might opt for a community college experience instead of a sleep-away-school ← totally awesome option for the money conscious/savvy student. Some students might end their Gap Year and want to keep traveling and learning experientially. You can get a job – part-time or otherwise – and bump up that piggy bank. You might want to sign up for the military, an apprenticeship, or another trainee program.

In short, there are many paths you can opt to take. But going to college should be a choice you weigh considerably. Here are some general questions to ask yourself as you navigate these waters:

What are your goals?

Certainly, not all career paths require college degrees; however, others do. How will this chapter of life – college – contribute to your overarching life mission? If you want to work with refugees or other marginalized populations, perhaps more direct-experience with these peoples through an internship would add value to your eventual formal studies in global development. If you want to devote your life to teaching English as a second language, there’s nothing wrong with taking a teaching gig abroad instead of attending school yourself, but understand that those with a degree are making a lot more money than those without.

To be clear: college can benefit you in ways beyond the actual degree, but it’s up to you to decide if it is necessary to accomplish your goals in life.

What Are Your Motivations for College?

If you feel motivated to go to college because it feels like the “right” thing to do or because you’re feeling pressured from outside sources (here’s lookin’ at you, mom and dad), you might need to go back to square one. College is a significant investment. Very significant. We’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars here. If your only reason for going to school is to make others happy – and not because it is what you truly want – your motivation to attend classes and perform well scholastically might decrease over time, potentially undermining the endeavor altogether.

Are You Crazy-Passionate Right Now & in Need of an Outlet?

College campuses are hotbeds for change, full of individuals hungry to make a dent in the world and help others. Living in this community can be jarring and exciting for a young activist in the making. If you’re on fire for any given cause (Women’s rights? Education equality? Access to clean water?) in light of your Gap Year experiences, consider channeling that fervor in a healthy, fertile environment – like the kind you can find on a college campus.

Does College Have to Happen RIGHT NOW?

Or, can you hold off for a year or more? You might decide that you definitely want to go to college, but the idea of term papers and sororities and three-lattes-per-day sounds off-putting at this stage of life. Attending college is a full-time job (a badass one, if you consider your only tasks are to learn and read and try to better understand the world); if you’re not ready to take on the commitment yet, hold off until you are.

Do You Know What You Want to Accomplish, Academically?

One of the perks of the Gap Year experience is clarity towards your life purpose and vocation. If you return from abroad, ready to hit the ground running and know exactly what you’d like to study and where, then you might be a great fit for going to college. Not wasting precious time (and money) on an undecided major will help you feel focused and accomplished in your collegiate career.

Do You Have the Resources?

If you thought your Gap Year bills were expensive, wait ’til you get a load of a tuition invoice. While financial aid, work-study programs, scholarships, and grants are all well and dandy, there’s still typically a good deal of money you have to fork out independently. Some students are fortunate in that family members will foot their college bills or subsidize their living expenses. Others might not be as lucky. Ask yourself if this is debt you’re willing to take on.

Then, think creatively. Perhaps combining the best of your international Gap Year experience with university would work. Check into the countries, abroad, where even foreign students can attend for free, or at rates far less than the ones found at US schools. There are international options, at excellent schools, for a fraction of the costs inside the USA.

Are You Ready to Make This Decision?

Whether you send off that application to (insert dream college here) or choose another path to postpone college life, you need to feel confident in your decision.Much like it took a degree of bravery when you chose to do a Gap Year, aim to have an equivalent sense of purpose towards your college decision.

Should You go to College Right Away After Your Gap Year?

Maybe. Should you go right now? Maybe not.

Don’t feel rushed to make a decision. Make sure you have many conversations – with friends, parents, other friends’ parents, your favorite high school teacher, your manager from your after school job, your mentor, whoever you look up to in life – and use all of their insights to come to a decision that feels right for YOU and you alone.

Remember: being “successful” is subjective and there are plenty of “successful” people who have lead meaningful, lives of impact with (and without) a degree in tow.

“So, How Was Your Gap Year?” Answers to the Inevitable Question

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In a nutshell: don’t default to the easy, generic responses of “good,” “great,” or “fine.” We’re glad it was all of those things, but you owe it to yourself – and the lessons you learned – AND the people you met along the way – to tell your communities back home even more.

And not just the pretty stuff, either. It wasn’t always sunshine and daisies and photo-worthy moments. There were hard times. You saw a lot of stuff. Complicated stuff. And you’re still trying to figure it out. Those are the meaty details that your family and friends deserve to know – not only because you might be their only outlet to first-hand stories in extremely foreign places, but also to allow them to support you along your post-Gap Year journey.

Here’s some basic advice to get you through that awkward, cringe-worthy (but inevitable) question that will pop out of all your friends’ and family members’ mouths: how was it?

Before the Question

Memorize a few different versions of your response

You might end up being asked while waiting in line at Starbucks, while having a heart to heart with your best friend, or while checking in with your Grandma. Mentally prepare multiple versions of your go-to response, but be cognizant of including more than a simple, “It was great” kind of thing.

Plan for:

A 30 second response for those quickie convos.
“Thanks so much for asking. I grew so much through the experience, and was really surprised by X and Y. I would do it again in a heartbeat if only to hang out with my homestay mother Z one more time – her life was pretty challenging and fascinating, but I couldn’t believe how much A pervades the culture. Now I’m looking forward to and I’m already planning my return trip!”

A 10 minute response for the longer-than-normal but not quite a deep-dive convos.

Example topics to cover:

  • What you wish you knew before you went
  • Which skills you developed on accident
  • The challenges of returning home
  • What most surprised you by the country/-ies you visited
  • What you hope to incorporate into your life back home
  • Which relationships had the most impact on your life and why?

A 30 minute response for the really good listeners

Consider:

  • Creating a slideshow of favorite photos and offering some context as you filter through them
  • Playing a short video clip that depicts an aspect of your life abroad
  • Incorporating the above suggestions but sharing more details

Be sure to protect individuals’ privacy or identities if you are speaking to specific experiences.

Put together some quick photos to show others

Pick your favorite photos and sub-categorize them into their own folder on your smart phone. You might even kick it old school and have them printed (on actual paper)! Carry them in your wallet or your pursue to pull out if the opportunity presents itself. Consider creating a powerpoint presentation of your favorite snapshots to pass along digitally to friends and family.

Choose the stories you tell & filter for audience

Another proactive way to thoughtfully prepare for these conversations is to suss out which details you feel comfortable sharing with strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family. Your friends might love the story of that time you went on a date with a Chinese boy (and the hilarious text message conversations that ensued), but your teacher or professor might not find those anecdotes quite as funny (or charming).

To that end, you might want to focus more on what you learned scholastically when catching up with your academic advisor, but emphasize your personal growth more with your significant other, or aunt. Mentally differentiate which stories you’ll share with which audiences and go from there.

In the Moment

Check the time

Is this a passing conversation (like a bump-in at the grocery store or while en-route to class?) or is this a conversation that you can dig a little deeper into? Consider how much time you have to divulge the details.

Make sure their eyes don’t glaze over

Some people only ask the question to be polite. You can tell pretty quickly when an individual isn’t so interested in actually hearing the dirty details of your trip abroad. Their eyes will glaze over, they’ll lose eye contact, they’ll ask perfunctory questions, their body language will tell the tale. When you see the conversation moving this way, consider asking them a question in response to re-engage them.

Some ideas include:

  • What do you know about ?
  • Have you ever traveled abroad? What was your favorite part?
  • What would you do differently the next time you travel?
  • Where in the world do you want to go and can I come too?!

It’s important to keep the conversation a mutual dialogue rather than them listening to a dragging-on message about all the fun you had without them (even if you do focus your response on deeper, more meaningful topics versus the typical touristy play-by-play).

Balance fun quips with deeper takeaways

While your family and friends will be excited to learn you rafted the River Nile and swam with the fishies in the Great Barrier Reef, you are doing yourself a HUGE disservice by making these tales the focal point of your conversations.

One: It dumbs down your experience.

Two:
It detracts from your overall Gap Year goals – which was to learn more about the world in a meaningful and impactful way.

Three: You rob the individual of learning new perspectives on the lives of people that might be far away physically, but are pretty close emotionally/mentally/spiritually.

Add value to the conversation and avoid shallow discourse. Share your new truths and your new goals. Share your journey to clarity about said truths and goals. Recount the morning you woke up with a chicken in your bed, but remind listeners of how much we really take for granted in our own country, too.

With these tips in mind, you’re going to NAIL those conversations – and both parties will walk away enriched by the experience.

Reverse Culture Shock: Why Does Everything Feel Weird Now?

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Why Does Everything Feel Weird Now?

You’re back. It’s been a whirlwind. Your mom and dad greeted you tearfully at the airport (only this time they were happy tears instead of sad ones). Grandpa swept you up in a big bear hug. Your friends went berserk at the sight of you, and you’ve had a wonderful time catching up, laughing, stuffing your face, and generally settling back into your old, familiar, friendly community.

But then you wake up one morning, and it hits you: Did that gap year really happen? Was it all a dream? Did you actually travel thousands of miles – alone – in search of new places and a new sense of self? What happened to that sense of self? Is s/he still around? Do I even belong here anymore?

Bam. Reverse culture shock.

What Does Reverse Culture Shock Mean For You?

Much like the flood of emotions you felt throughout your transition to life abroad (“culture shock”), a similar psychological response occurs when you return home. Sure, it’s not “new” in the traditional sense. But you’re returning with new eyes and new realizations, and seeing the “old” can be jarring (to put it nicely).

Everything feels weird because you’re experience reverse culture shock. The good news is that you’ll get through it and wind up feeling happier, more satisfied, and more self-assured than ever before. The semi-bummer news (or exciting, if you’re one of those, gung-ho, super-invested in self-development types!) is that it’s going to take a bit of work. But with the right mindset and a little self-love, you’ll be whistling a reintegration tune in no time.

What Does Reverse Culture Shock Mean for Your Friendships?

It can mean a lot of different things. Some Gap Year students return to their former besties and pick things up right where they left off. You gab, share stories, and start making more memories – together – immediately.

But what if you come back from your program and are unsure of your friend group?
What if the distance made you realize that you want to surround yourself with different types of people? What if you don’t really want to pursue a friendship or two anymore?

This can be tough to navigate for anyone at any stage of life. The first step is to be honest. It can be hard, but you owe it to that person – and your history – to be upfront with them. Explain that you’re focusing on yourself or want to engage in new hobbies or groups that will make you less available. Explain that you’re wrestling with a lot of new feelings and emotions and want to do it on your own.

It’ll hurt and it’ll be hard, but it is essential that you are true to your newfound awareness. Your friend group can become the easiest, slipperiest slope into old habits and bad behavior (you know, the kind that you’re trying to shake now).

What Does Reverse Culture Shock Mean for Your Future Education, or Career Prospects?

You took a Gap Year because you wanted to better understand yourself and the way the world works. You wanted to polish your resume and return to school with a renewed sense of clarity about your passion and purpose. You

That’s all fine and dandy, but what good are those intentions if there is no follow through?

If you choose to revert to your old self instead of pushing through your reverse culture shock period, all of your experiences will be, well, moot. While no opportunity is one wasted if you garnered something of value from it, it is your responsibility to yourself to follow through with becoming the man or woman you decided to be.

This translates to your future job and academic prospects. You won’t be able to morph your experiences into leverage for competitive courses or positions if you didn’t do the work of fusing the lessons from your life abroad into your life back home.

How to be the Master of Reverse Culture Shock

Resolve to be Patient

Remember how long it took you get over that break-up with the one you thought was the one?
You’d wake up some mornings determined to be #overit, but then you’d find yourself tirelessly scrolling their feeds some two hours later. But eventually, those stalk sessions became fewer and further between and eventually, you actually meant it when you said “I hope s/he’s happy.”

To the same extent – while it seems dark and scary now, you will get through this. You might not wake up tomorrow feeling 100% integrated and ready to go. You might not wake up in a month feeling it. But little by little, you will overcome these emotional obstacles and feel “at home” again – or at least at peace with being at home.

Feed Your Wild Side

You’ve had so many adventures packed into your recent months. No, literally. You’ve had SO many adventures. Stopping all that fun cold-turkey can feel disruptive and challenging to your ability to be content at home. Now it’s up to you: you can either whine and live in the past, or you can adopt a killer, intrepid mentality to accompany you through life.

Look for new adventures in your old town or university. Join new clubs. Meet new people. Take a new way home. Go on micro-adventures – a concept my dear friend Avy once imparted on me. Weekends away, day trips to new towns, camping in your backyard… all viable microadventures, and all within your reach. Continue to nurture your need for adventure!

Stay in Touch

You made a ton of great connections, relationships, and friendships while on your Gap Year – don’t fall victim to the lazy “it’s too hard to keep in touch” attitude that pervades our lives when we’re stuck in routine. Set up Skype dates. Kick it old school and send a letter. Print photos and send them to your homestay family. Write reviews of your program provider and volunteer to talk with potential participants. Use Oovoo when you can’t just chat one-on-one. Ask your program leaders for guidance, advice, recommendation letters.

You’ll get out of the relationship what you put in, and each of these outlets will be incredible resources for you as you continue to process your Gap Year, your re-entry period, and your next steps.

Part and parcel with your grand adventure, this stage of the experience is just as important and integral to your overall success as when you had your boots on the ground abroad. Really sit in the discomfort and disorient of these days. Reflect on how far you’ve come, and where you’re going now that you’re equipped with these incredible experiences.

Photo Credit: Ali Naqi

6 Ways to Keep the Gap Year Spirit Alive

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Whether you’re still shaking out the dust from your pack or your passport has been safely stored for a few weeks, it’s never too soon (or too late) to think about ways you can integrate your Gap-Year-self into your life back home.

For some, coming back home is the ultimate challenge in “walking the walk” and “talking the talk” – the walk and the talk that you found while on your Gap Year. It makes no sense to have all of these new insights about yourself only to tuck them away and hide them after you’ve returned home. Now’s the time for you to step up, to integrate your realizations into your daily life, and continue moving towards progression as an individual (because let’s face it, there’s always more to learn).

Remember the adventuresome, fun-loving sides of your personality that shone bright during your Gap Year? Here’s how to keep that spirit alive, even long after your travel posts pop up on your On This Day notification.

Join the Fight for Social Justice!

Ask around your university campus for causes or organizations that work to eradicate the human rights issues you are recently passionate for. An example organization is Valparaiso University’s Social Action Leadership Team (SALT). Finding communities of impassioned young adults will spur further civic engagement and action – a perfect environment for a post-Gap-Year heart like yours.

Find other cool clubs

Language learning groups, meet up’s for those who speak the same second language as you, organizations that help international students or immigrants integrate smoothly into their new city or school, clubs to help ESL learners in town. They’re ALL fair game and ALL awesome.

Just because you’re not an Asian American doesn’t mean you can’t join Asian American Student Association at the University of Oklahoma. Use it as a means for learning more about their struggles, their joys, their celebrations – what it means to navigate life in the US with a different background. The same can be applied for any identity group that you are an advocate/ally for but don’t share in that sub-identity per se.

In general, clubs are a low-key, awesome strategy for connecting with other folks who appreciate culture – don’t be afraid of feeling foolish. Remember the fear and nerves you had when you started your Gap Year? And how awesome it turned out? Same applies here. #KaboshTheComfortZone

Volunteer more!

Beyond the satisfaction of knowing you helped brighten another’s day, you know firsthand that some of life’s best lessons are hidden amongst learning experiences in situations you’d otherwise never find yourself in. Actively seek more community service projects in your university or hometown, on campus or beyond campus limits.

We challenge you to think broadly about groups of people or causes that you aren’t familiar with, and using volunteer hours as a way to educate yourself, connect with others, and give back in a meaningful way. These volunteer projects might not be as “exotic” as those on your Gap Year, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful or give them any less of an impact. Find local resources through United Way,

You’re a Global Citizen. Act Like It!

How does being a global citizen manifest itself into action in your daily life? Here are just a handful of creative ideas:

  • Read national news sources as well as foreign
  • Stay up to date on causes you care about worldwide
  • Find a heart-centered mentor who cares about global issues
  • Consider environmental repercussions of your consumption, lifestyle, transportation choices, etc.
  • “Like” Facebook pages from multiple political and ethnic perspectives
  • Support fair trade, local, and grassroots organizations over franchises and chains whenever possible
  • Consciously read books and articles from opposing viewpoints to sharpen your opinions
  • Talk up travel – the “more than touristing” kind – with anyone and everyone who will listen
  • Advocate for the marginalized people you met while abroad, whether through local government initiatives, online forums, etc.
  • Respect and value diversity of thought!
  • Be willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place

It’s a title that bears responsibility. It’s our hope that your Gap Year made you a more aware global citizen, and that you’re willing to step forward towards incorporating those values into your daily life. But this takes work  – especially at the beginning – but it will bring you the kind of satisfaction that you assumed was unique to your Gap Year.

Share Your Stories With Friends

Don’t let your shared experiences with those who look, think, talk, act, drive… the list goes on… differently than you stay a thing of the past. It’s up to YOU to share their stories, and bring their realities to the forefront of the individuals in your life who struggle to empathize with the daily lives of those in other countries. Use photos, use anecdotes, use formal presentations. Sing songs or share memories. Highlight the good parts as well as the struggles.

Only through educating people within our own communities about those who live in communities outside our own will we be able to effectively move forward as a global community at large. It’s your job – nay, your duty – to sensitively share others’ stories.

Brainstorm Ways to Travel Again!

Let’s face it – there’s just something cool about being thrown into the unknown and left to stand on your own two feet. Travel has a way of jolting our senses in ways that the familiar just can’t. If you want to keep your intrepid self in the present rather than the past, why not start planning your next grand adventure?

Open up that big world map, tack it to the wall, lay down and just daydream. Think of new activities and experiences you want to have. Prioritize those travel goals. Then pop open your laptop and get to work on transforming those daydreams to reality (don’t worry, 12+ open tabs at once is the norm!).

Regardless if you travel one hour south or twelve hours north, whether by plane, train, or automobile, whether with passport in tow or to the town over, the spirit of adventure can be found around every corner. Here’s the secret: it’s a mindset. Heck, you don’t even need to travel to capture the spirit – find ways to be excited and optimistic about your daily life (who knows what incredibly memorable experience you’ll have on this typical Tuesday, anyway?!). Capture that special courage that you discovered on your Gap Year – and convert it to an equally audacious sense of self no matter where you land.

How to Support Your Traveling Student From Home

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Well done! Despite feeling nerves like never before and wanting nothing more than to squeeze your kid tight and never let go, you’ve managed to support your child as they’ve gone through the (admittedly-more-arduous-than-you-anticipated) process of preparing for a Gap Year. But now they’ve taken off from JFK/SFO/ATL, and are en-route to the learning experience of a lifetime. So, now what?

Even though you’re thousands of miles away, you, as a parent, will still play a critical role in the success of your child’s Gap Year. As per usual, you’ll wear many hats – friend, confidant, parent, cheerleader, soundboard. But new territory to navigate will also present itself: without the convenience of face-to-face interactions and a shared physical presence, finding ways to connect can be more challenging than expected.

So how can you support your child while they’re thousands of miles away on a Gap Year, anyway?

Encourage Making Good Decisions

Here’s the reality: you don’t know exactly what your kid is experiencing every day. And that’s pretty scary. Hopefully you’ve instilled some street smarts in your kid over the years that will allow them to handle their new day-to-day road bumps. In the end, the best you can do (both for your child and your own sanity), is to consistently encourage them to make good decisions.

Good decisions come in handy in a variety of circumstances. Coach your kid into thinking clearly through their actions, considering others throughout that decision-making process (especially in light of their role as a visitor in a foreign country), and ultimately making choices that aren’t always “easy” but are always “right.”

As a parent, it’s your moral obligation to be the (slightly) naggy reminder of all things safety. Gentle prompts to be travel-savvy, such as storing money in multiple places on your person, are not overbearing – they’re necessary. Be the voice of reason in case your child is getting caught up in all the fun.

Frame Conversations Appropriately

While it’s great to learn about their trip to Victoria Falls and (gulp) when they hung over the edge of somewhere called “The Devil’s Pool,” try to redirect conversations to focus more on what they’re learning and what they’re gaining from their overall experience. Fun and adventure will inevitably be a part of their Gap Year (and it should!), but ideally, your child has more robust goals for their trip than a couple of cool photos.

When you have your check in with your kid, ask them more pointed questions about things they’re learning about themselves or personal reactions to experiences they hadn’t anticipated. Don’t ask them to give you the play-by-play. Instead, challenge your kid (and yourself!) to avoid giving a chronological “report” of their experiences abroad. Ask them about their favorite “teacher” – even if it’s an unconventional one like their homestay mother – and if their goals have changed or adjusted throughout their experiences. What new insights do they have? New passions? New ideas for a sense of purpose?

Yes, you want to hear about toppling all over each other as your kid and their friends recreated the Tower of Pisa in Italy, but don’t allow these surface-level discussions to be the core of your check ins.

No Guilt Trips: None!

We know you miss them. We know it’s hard. We know that your spouse just isn’t as much fun without your kid around. We know that you have more free time now than you know what to do with. But do not – under ANY circumstances – guilt trip your child because you are heartsick for their company.

There’s a difference between communicating your love for them meaningfully without sliding into the “I wish you were here’s” and the “Well, if you hadn’t left us forever…” eyerolls. Now is not the time for being overly dramatic. Now is the time for you to find new avenues for personal emotional support healthily.

Guilt tripping your child can backfire in a major way.
You might get satisfaction in the short term but it’s harmful to the relationship in the long term. Why create feelings of regret or resentment for your kid when they should be focusing on learning all the lessons this great big beautiful world has to offer?

Develop a New Identity for Yourself

Having a child “fly the nest” isn’t an easy process for any parent. After years of investing time and energy and laundry detergent and love into a little person, you suddenly realize they’re all grown up and capable of making important decisions independently. They walk away and you’re left feeling less-than-whole.

Rather than wallow in self-pity and an identity crisis, look at the experience as an opportunity. It’s an invitation for you to explore new understandings of yourself. There’s a lot you can do with your newfound brain space; devote it to hobbies or activities that DON’T include memorizing your child’s extracurricular schedule.

Your child will only feel wholly supported when their parents are feeling stable and grounded.

Smile. Laugh. Be Interested.

By the 11th phone call of their epic trip, you might start feeling a little zoned out when your kid is giving you updates. Sure – your kid may drone on, and sure – you might not need every detail about that mango sticky rice, but it’s important that you are fully present for your long-distance conversations with your kid. It can be tempting to have one eye on your favorite reality TV show as you chat. But your kid needs you to listen, respond, engage in conversation, and treat them like their stories are as cool as they think they are.

Give Them Space

Whether you regularly Snapchat your kid goofy photos or are still LEARNING HOW NOT TO TEXT IN ALL CAPS, it’s safe to assume you have regular in-person and digital communication with your kid. While the ongoing daily conversations serve a purpose, they’re not realistic for your child’s stint abroad. They need to be fully present and actively participating in their experience (not to mention WIFI can be spotty in other places).

Instead of demanding daily check ins or four-hour-long gab seshes every weekend, invite your kid to propose a check in schedule that works for them. It may change over the course of their Gap Year, depending on their needs and their availability. Phone chats might happen once every three days for a period and then be separated by two to three week stints.

Remember: the underlying goal of a Gap Year is for your kid to develop some serious self-awareness, and this can be hindered by constantly disengaging through phone calls home.

Finding your groove as a long-distance-parent takes time. You might feel things you’ve never felt before. You might hit the ground running. You might flounder a bit. Just as your kid is learning in this new stage of life, so are you – practice patience and self-love. You’ll get there!

Planning Your Return Home at the End of Your Gap Year

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We know you’re too busy having fun and soaking up every adventure-filled moment of your Gap Year experience to even begin considering your days abroad are numbered, but wise students know that preparing to transition to life back home requires some advance prep. Sure, you’re excited to reunite with loved ones and stuff your face with breakfast tacos – not to mention taking a long shower with (gasp!) a loofa – but there’s much more to returning home than these simple pleasures.

There are, often, unfamiliar emotional and psychological responses to anticipate. Reverse culture shock and a grasping for the past are not unusual to feel. You might even begin to wonder if your Gap Year was nothing but a dream.

Here’s my best advice for winding down your time abroad in a way that sets you up for long-term success.

Take Some Photos

Then, take some more.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve adapted greatly to your life abroad. Remember the wonderment on your days strolling the streets of your Gap Year destination, how everything was interesting, new, and different? Now you might scurry by without giving a second thought. This usually indicates that the strange has transformed to the ordinary, and you’re no longer seeing your new destination with visitor’s eyes.

But, try to hold tight to that wonderment. Record as much of your everyday life as you can, especially those ordinary people, places, and things you want to remember.

Say a Culturally Appropriate Goodbye to Your New Friends (& Family)

We have a hunch you’ve made some special bonds on your Gap Year. Be sure to acknowledge these special relationships by carving out time to say goodbye in a way that feels good – and in a way that is culturally appropriate. Hugs, notes, handshakes, a hand on the shoulder. A polite grasping of your right fist with a slight tilt of the head in a bow.

Collect contact info, too – Facebook CAN be more than a soundboard for the minute details of your life. The ability to keep in touch regularly with long distance friends is one of the great benefits on this giant social network.

Mentally Prepare Yourself

Think about how returning home is both similar and different from going abroad – you’ll be entering a new culture again, albeit a more familiar one. But since you’ll be coming home with new perspectives and a new sense of self, you might be surprised how your old haunts feel a little foreign.

Brace yourself for an adjustment period – feeling comfortable at home won’t happen overnight. Some things, even your friends and family, might seem strange (or unsettling).

Get Ready For Some Cultural-Catch Up

While I largely consider my time away from the US during the height of Angry Birds a blessing, it’s naive of returnee travelers to think that they didn’t miss out on SOMETHING important while abroad – many linguistic, social, political, economic, entertainment, and current event topics may be unfamiliar to you.

In reality, laughing with friends and family over the fads and (seemingly) “big deals” that happened while you were gone is a great way not only to reconnect, but also to reflect on the transience of all these trends.

Avoid Judgment & the Comparison Game

Before traveling abroad, you probably read countless articles and advice around the theme of having an “open mind.” The same rings true for when you return home. You might be quick to make snap judgments about people and behaviors back home given your newly “enlightened” sense of being. While we don’t mean to undermine the powerful realizations you’ve undergone while abroad, it’s important not to diminish the lives of your friends and family back home.

Instead, cultivate sensitivity. Patience, reflection, and a sense of love for everyone’s journey are a good remedy for judgement. Be genuinely interested in what your friends and family have been doing while you’ve been abroad.

Making comparisons between cultures and nations is a perfectly normal response to your experiences; however, Gap Year returnees must be careful not to be seen as too critical of home or too lavish in praise of things foreign.

Lean on Your Support Networks

Now is not the time to cry into a bowl of rice while watching Mulan and longing for the good ol’ days abroad in China. Instead, commit to processing your entire experience in the company of those who also value international experiences or who have been transformed by life abroad.

Your Gap Year friends are a good resource, but look further into your communities, too. Find groups on campus. Connect with travelers in your home town. The networks are there, you just need to find them, put on that brave smile (like when you boarded that plane abroad!), and be vulnerable as you navigate the up’s and down’s of life back home.

Give yourself permission to ease into the transition.

It’s not an easy process, but it’s an important one – perhaps the most important phase of your entire experience abroad. Now’s the time for you to make good on your commitments as a global citizen and put into practice the lessons you’ve learned while overseas. Hop to it!

Photo Credit: Binyamin Mellish

Why a Passion for Learning is Your Best Gap Year Souvenir

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There’s that pair of comfy traveler pants – wild patterns with cinched waists and ankles. Or the prints of beautiful artwork made by a local you conversed briefly with. There’s the magnet for mom, the T-shirt for baby bro, and the precious charm bracelet you mentally commit to never losing.

While all of these mementos have value and – hopefully won’t end up in the bottom of a dusty box in the attic as their fate – there’s one incredibly powerful souvenir that your Gap Year will leave you with:

A rekindling of a love for learning. Here’s why.

Learning Won’t be Confined to Exams & Papers

At some point in our educations, learning became less about wonderment and more about proving memorization in the form of formal exams, homework, papers – you name it. Remember as kids when we would marvel at water systems at the museum? When we would make rainbows out of light refractions? When storybooks took us to enchanted lands?

We were learning – a ton – and not to prove to someone that we know what we’re doing. We were learning for the sake of learning, and that gets lost somewhere over time. We start to learn to prove to college admissions counselors we’re their next admit, we learn to get allowance and pocket money from mom and dad, we learn to pass grades and progress with our classmates.

Your Gap Year gives you time to throw those expectations out the window and learn for the hell-of-it. Because you want to. Because you’re curious. Because you’re exploring new passions. AWESOME.

Speaking of Passions – Let’s Identify Them

“Passion” is a buzzword amongst millennials, particularly on their journey to finding a career they find meaningful. If you’re passionate about your job – they say – you’ll never have to work a day in your life. But what does that even mean? What can that look like in your life? What are you even PASSIONATE about – besides breakfast tacos?

Use your Gap Year to find out. There’s no agenda, no set itinerary, no checklists to tick off. Tune into the topics, discussions, or activities that pique your interest. Follow that curiosity. Does a conversation on world religions make your eyes heavy? Maybe it’s not your calling. But does a conversation on animal rights or food security make your ears perk up? ← That’s a good sign. Find a book on the subject, find an expert on the subject to chat with, find some related Wikipedia holes to fall into – and dig deeper.

You’ll Discover Multiple Ways to Learn

Not to knock traditional schooling – some students really thrive in environments that are structured, with exams, and the like, to tangibly mark their progress. Other students find experiential learning is more impactful, and will forego the college-route in search of more hands-on learning experiences. Others still will take a meandering route of volunteering, internships, a commitment to reading, etc.

In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to learning. Your Gap Year will help you intimately learn what works for YOU. Try one, try ‘em all, make up your own combo. The beauty of this is that you can observe, absorb, reflect – for yourself and no one else.

Intellectual Curiosity is Sexy

Since we know one of your major sub-goals of your Gap Year is to become the most attractive mate possible (kidding), we want you to encourage you to come home with a love for learning. Truth be told, individuals that are gungho to learn EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING end up being some of the most interesting people you can cross paths with.

Being intellectually curious will help you succeed not only in your academic life, but also in your personal and professional lives. It means your brain is super absorbent – open to new perspectives, challenging narratives, confusing facts, astounding news stories – and is primed to digest all of the info its processing.

A Commitment to Learning Makes You a Stronger Global Leader

Think of the role models: presidents, prime ministers, priests, and influencers who are kind of stuck in a rut. They are clinging to old ways, refusing to adapt to evolving societal norms and developing cultural values.

While traditions are beautiful and certainly have worth, it is those leaders who remain adaptable (willing to learn something new) that tend to succeed in their missions in today’s world. Could this be you?

In the end, souvenirs can be fun, can be kitschy, can have meaning, can be beautiful. But the one we hope you carry with you closely, in your future post-Gap Year years, is a passion and a desire for learning itself.

Photo Credit: Ian Schneider