With summer in full swing the Instagram feeds of our favorite Gap Year programs are filling up with images full of adventure and inspiration. Check it out!
What if we’ve been asking ourselves the wrong questions all along? What would happen if we stopped focusing on how to “make college work” and instead focused on personal goals for the college experience and the years beyond?
Setting those personal goals begins with a deep understanding of what we want. Unfortunately, most of us truly don’t know what we want from the future right out of high school. I didn’t. It takes some time for most students to get to know their interests, passions, and goals for the future. International travel can help to clarify what we’re shooting for over the next 5-10 years. What’s more, it can help us to succeed in the world of college applications and new social scenes. Here are a few ways international travel can boost your college experience and help you to set your own goals:
Successful College Admissions
University admissions have become increasingly competitive as pursuing higher education becomes the norm. College admissions officers are looking for students who stand out from the crowd. Nowadays, students trying to land entry to their dream college will need something more unique than a top-notch GPA under their belts. Luckily for you, a combination of travel and personal study can build a killer college application.
What about the time you spent hiking in the Alps, studying local flora and fauna along the way? Or the time you went scuba diving off the coast of Australia? Put it on the application to show your interest in environmental studies! With a bit of intentional thought and study along the way, travel experiences can turn into application gold. I used travel to prove that I was passionate about my major and was already diving in on my own.
International Experience & Competitive Uni Clubs
This is a benefit of international experience I´d never heard of until it happened to me. A year into my university experience, I discovered a campus club I was interested in joining. An offshoot of WUSC, the club provided mentors and support to incoming refugee students sponsored by my university. But there was a catch. Entry to the club is incredibly competitive. I needed to prove that I was passionate about helping people, sensitive to the experiences of moving to a new country, and open to cultural differences.
With tons of international experience under my belt, I aced the interview and was immediately accepted to be a mentor! It turned out to be one of my best university experiences yet. As you work through college, you’ll find that a travel background can open doors to competitive experiences.
Score an Internship
When fellow students and professors see that you’ve had real-world experiences outside of a campus setting, they’re more willing to hand over responsibilities and opportunities. Makes sense, right? Students who travel have already proven themselves to be capable, responsible, and dedicated to their goals. These are the kinds of people who are top picks for internships, mentorships, and leadership positions. Knowing that I had traveled before, my professor picked me for a two month internship at a research library in Guatemala.
Immersion in Your Subject Area
A Gap Year is a chance to explore your field of interest before committing to a major. Want to go into marine biology? Take a year to dive and study the ocean on your own. Interested in geography? Spend time studying landforms and unique cultures around the world. Interested in language arts? Take language courses and visit local theaters as you travel.
Not only will you be getting an in-depth look into your future degree program of choice, you’ll also be racking up the experience needed for a killer application. Worst case scenario: you discover you’re not as into your major as you thought. Better now than three years in!
Be sure to network with people outside of your peer group as you wander, you never know when you’ll bump into someone in your field who can give you some insight or a boost in your dream career. Success is all about connections. Use your time wisely and intentionally connect with people who can help you towards your goals. Who knows? Your Gap Year could change your life through these people!
Personal Confidence, Clarity, & Vision
This is the big one for me. Going straight from high school to university gives you zero time to get to know yourself, to pursue your interests, and to get your feet under you as an adult. Before university, I backpacked Europe with my boyfriend. I drove across the U.S. And during that time, I learned a great deal about where I wanted to take the next 5-10 years of my life.
By the time I entered university, I felt confident. I knew my major was right for me, and I was ready to take on my university years with a vision for my future. As a result, I’ve been more committed to my schoolwork, more interested in what I’m learning, and have been able to say yes to the opportunities that fit with my goals.
If you’re not sure what college suits you yet. Travel.
If you’re not in love with the idea of picking a major. Travel.
If you want to give yourself a boost in the resume and experience department. Travel.
Feeling shy and unsure of yourself? Travel.
Think you’ve got it all together on your own? Travel.
There’s nothing to lose, and a world to explore.
Summer is in full swing and for thousands of young people Gap Year planning is ramping up. With only weeks left before many of the Gap Year programs take off we wanted to share some inspiration from our accredited members. Check it out!
Follow Omprakash on Instagram:
Follow Global Routes on Instagram:
Follow NOLS on Instagram:
One of the exciting additions to the International Gap Year Conference, in Denver, this year was the inaugural presentation of awards. Delighted by the numerous nominations, the conference committee was pleased to present the following awards for Innovation, Research, Accessibility, and Advancing the Movement.
Excellence & Equity in Accessibility
This award is presented to an individual or corporate body that has pushed the boundaries in expanding equity and accessibility in the Gap Year movement, creating greater opportunities for students overcoming obstacles.
Global Citizen Year
Global Citizen Year is actively working to democratize travel and dispel the myth that a Gap Year is “just for rich kids.” Recognizing that talent is universal but opportunity is not GCY has built a program that honors that ethos.
To date, 80% of Global Citizen Year Fellows have received some level of need-based financial aid, and 30% have received a fully-funded scholarship. This year alone, Global Citizen Year will provide over $2M in scholarships to low-income participants. Perhaps the most telling statistics regarding the diversity of our their Fellow cohort are that 47% are eligible to receive Pell Grants for college and 45% self-identify as people of color.
Global Citizen Year’s commitment to access means the next generation of new leaders will increasingly reflect the diversity of our country.
Karl Haigler Excellence in Gap Year Research Award
Honoring the long standing work and commitment to research in the Gap Year community, pioneered by Karl Haigler, the first presentation of this award was made by Karl.
Corrinne Guidi is on the AGA Research Committee and has been working through Nina Hoe’s National Alumni Survey to draw out more meaningful data. Focusing on a qualitative study on Alumni Student Outcomes, Corinne has been mining through nearly 500 open-ended survey questions, brining to life the words of alumni from the deep well of data.
Corinne’s deep work is acknowledged through this reward for taking the NAS data to another level.
Advancing the Gap Year Movement
This award is presented to an individual or corporate body who has demonstrated a commitment to advancing the Gap Year movement, from within as well as externally.
Robin Pendoley, Thinking Beyond Borders
Robin has served as co-founder, curriculum director, and now CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders for almost 10 years. During this time he has established TBB as one of the most well-respected Gap Year organizations in the field, all the while lending an important voice to the field as a whole.
As a co-director of the USA Gap Year Fairs for 5 years, Robin helped oversee the expansion of the fairs to the thriving fair circuit and turnout we see today. As a founding board member for AGA, Robin sought to bring his expertise in programming and pedagogy to the standards process, as well as his influence to bring around other members of the industry to the importance of a national accrediting body. Under Robin’s leadership, TBB became the first AGA-accredited organization when the process began in 2013.
Robin has played a pivotal role in the Gap Year movement in helping to revolutionize what overseas travel for Gap Year students can be–beyond just service hours and voluntourism–but genuine authentic engagement that seeks to develop the essential skills and capacities students need to lead exceptional social impact careers. An educator first and foremost, Robin has pioneered an educational institution that goes beyond the theoretical confines of traditional education, one that facilitates rigorous learning environments that engage with the world, examine its challenges, and place students alongside leaders who are committed to finding solutions to critical global issues.
Robin continues to provide a thoughtful and reflective voice in the national media, advocating for the value of gap years through his blog series on the transition to college at Psychology Today, the social impact sector at Forbes, and profiling TBB’s work in the Harvard Ed School magazine. All of this exposure has one common theme: helping to highlight the legitimate educational value that well-structured and intentional programs can provide to students.
Innovation in Programming
This award is given in recognition of significant innovation in some aspect of programming, recognizing an individual or corporate contribution to thinking outside the box and moving the community forward.
Julia Rogers, En Route Consulting
Julia’s relentless commitment to improving outcomes for students and advancing the Gap Year cause is well known within the community. As an IEC who works closely with both students and programs, she has worked hard to overcome obstacles for students and create unique solutions and opportunities for individual success within their Gap Year plans.
This year, Julia pioneered Gap Year Decision Day, May 25, and has rallied community support to further amplify the voices of students and Gap Year advocates on a larger scale.
A hearty congratulations to all of the recipients of the 2017 AGA Gap Year Awards. Thank you, deeply, for your service and your commitment to the community. Your example sets a high bar for excellence in all aspects of the industry.
$3000 USD Gap Year Grant for 2017-18
We’re very excited to announce the arrival of some new grants on the Gap Year travel scene. Travel Access Project, which is developing open-source educational resources for every country in the world, is also making a big splash this spring by announcing TEN $3000 grants for Gap Year Travel.
Seven of these will be awarded through TAP. Three will be awarded through Wayfinding Academy, Go Overseas, and the AGA Back-a-Gapper Scholarship.
- Do you have a dream of taking a Gap Year to travel and learn?
- Do you want to take a break between high school and college to experience the real world, expand your skill set and gain clarity towards your career path forward?
- Perhaps you’re just graduating from university and you’re looking to take a year to apply some of what you’ve learned, intern, or just experience another culture before you enter the work force?
Maybe you just believe, like we do, that travel is fundamental to an education and you realize that your education won’t be complete, no matter the diploma, until you’ve wandered a while and become a citizen of the broader world.
And please share with every one you know who might be interested!
Why I opted for a gap year abroad after college
Due to scholarship requirements and an eagerness to launch my undergraduate career, taking off for a year after high school wasn’t in the cards for me. However, that didn’t mean I was going to pass up a Gap Year all together, and four years later I found myself face to face with the invaluable opportunity to live abroad for a year.
In March of my senior year of college, I received a long-awaited email with a few short sentences informing me that I received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Germany. The months leading up to the final decision had been a pressure cooker of anticipation that would decide whether walking across the stage on graduation day was impending doom or the closing of one chapter before starting life’s next adventure.
Taking a chance on a Gap Year after college was never an easy, clear-cut decision. As my four-year undergraduate journey came to an end, friends and classmates were being snatched up by graduate schools, picking up stable full time jobs, or even exchanging vows at the altar. Society’s expectations and the desire to finally settle into the “real world” as an esteemed adult more or less dictated where everyone’s priorities lied. That’s not to say I didn’t want the same. I had a set list of goals I wanted to achieve in my 20s, which included obtaining a master’s degree, starting a 401(k), earning a stable income, and growing professionally, just to name a few. A slightly delayed timeline was the only difference.
Before running off to wholeheartedly dedicate myself to a career and tying myself down to a rental agreement and car, I wanted to squeeze in one last hurrah of youthful exploration. Shooting for a structured program abroad that guaranteed an occupation and stipend gave a peace of mind that I would have a clearly defined purpose for the next year. Professional development and an immersive environment to advance my German skills? Check and check.
Taking a Gap Year was a responsible, sound decision, but I couldn’t muffle the nagging voice in my head questioning if it really was the right thing to do.
The Post-College Gap Year Stigma
Seniors in college and recent graduates are constantly drilled with questions about their near future. What’s next? During the buildup to my departure to Germany, neighbors, acquaintances, and relatives alike curiously asked what life had in store for me next. After announcing my plans to live and teach abroad for the upcoming year, the reaction was always the same— “Wow, that’s amazing…but why?” No one got it. Rather than proudly revealing my achievement, I instead had to constantly justify to myself and others why I was “taking a year off”.
Whether a result of the United States’ education system or a deeply embedded hustling go-getter culture, there’s a certain stigma behind taking a Gap Year in the United States. During high school, the college-bound crowd is encouraged to apply to every scholarship under the sun, many of which are restricted to high school students. Missed the application window? You might have to scramble for smaller awards or take out financially crushing loans. Although some scholarships and higher education institutions may allow recipients to defer for a year or two with good reason, it’s not easy. Students are consequently steered from high school straight into college. After college, you naturally continue education, or settle into a job and start paying off racked up loans.
There’s a strict sequence of life events to check off before true adulthood, otherwise you run the risk of being perceived as a slacker or confused millennial trying to figure life out. Even so, gap year participation has skyrocketed in the last few years. International travel is the cheapest its ever been, Millennials are ditching the antiquated view that travel is a luxury reserved for retirees, and internet culture has inspired an inescapable wanderlust.
The benefits of taking a Gap Year, whether it’s after high school, college, or a relief from career burnout, are widely advertised. It’s no shock that a Gap Year spent volunteering abroad, exploring diverse careers, or simply traveling for the sake of adventure results in personal and skill development. You might not find your life’s purpose while meditating under a waterfall in Thailand, but stepping out of your comfort zone and drastically overhauling your reality shapes you at the core over time.
A Different Perspective: Germany
Teaching in Germany comes with many perks, one of which is gaining an insider perspective of students’ attitudes and a general feel for how education is approached.
Germany is no stranger to the concept of the Gap Year. Until just a few years ago, all young German men would have to serve a term in the military or do civil service such as volunteering. Putting their lives on hold right after schooling was common, and since mandatory service was abolished in 2011 it has remained popular to travel abroad for an extended period or do freiwilligenarbeit (volunteer work) before deciding on what to do next. Young students taking a year to live abroad is quite popular, often as an au pair to fine tune language fluency or volunteer at a local school for a few months for career insight.
When compared to the United States, universities in Germany are laughably affordable, with public ones only costing a few hundred euros a semester in fees (tuition at private universities are slightly steeper). With admission deadlines much later in the year, significantly less stress over funding, and a laxer attitude toward taking time off, the education system in Germany might lend a good explanation as to why the Gap Year has become a cultural staple. It’s not uncommon for students to be in their mid-20s by the time they receive their first bachelor’s degree.
Living in a rather small town off the usual tourist route, I’m regularly asked what a young American woman is doing in the German countryside. Instead of raising eyebrows at my year-long transatlantic jaunt, students and strangers give me an understanding nod and conclude that I’m doing an Auslandsjahr, literally a “foreign country year”.
No single cultural perspective has the right answer, and Gap Years are definitely not for everyone. The host of Gap Year Benefits are constantly cited, but who’s to say that the direct plunge from school to career doesn’t also have its own advantages? As young Americans continue to collect passport stamps and effortlessly gallivant across country borders, the attitude towards taking time off for a global education outside a classroom will undoubtedly continue to evolve.
Ultimately, a Gap Year abroad is an intimate experience of personal growth unique to each person. The only person who can decide whether a year abroad will be beneficial and when it’s best to take it is you!
Freshly graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in tourism management, Raquel spent the last few years trekking through Peru and Argentina, farming in Japan, teaching at a summer camp in South Korea, and exploring her parents’ heritage in Mexico, Spain, and Germany. Now during her fifth time in Germany, Raquel’s teaching English through the Fulbright program for the next year before pursuing a career in international education. She’s also virtually working as a junior editor at GoAbroad.com hoping to spread the international love.
My Gap Year has felt more like a holiday, getting to travel for a short vacation away from my reality that is home in Nepal and the struggles that I can see and feel there.
Finding My Comfort Zone
I’ve always been out of place, a stray puzzle piece that doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Back in Nepal, boarding school in India – it didn’t matter where I went, there was always someone who didn’t like what I wore or what I represented. Winterline has been different – it has been a wonderful group that not only accepts, but respects me. I’ve experienced something I feel like I’ve rarely experienced before: a sense of adequacy. Everything so far has felt comfortable, even if I’d never done it before. Everyone else has been pushed outside of their comfort zone. I’ve been pushed into a comfort zone.
I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons there – inside of the comfort zone, where I can really stand still for a second and evaluate, something I’ve almost never done. I’ve learned that there’s so much growing to be done every day! I’ve learned to throw myself out there.
Sure, I could just sit back and do what is expected of me and be enough. But that’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to be just good enough. There are days where even doing just that is difficult but when I’m barely making an effort is when I need to be working the hardest. I’ve met many people on this journey, driven by goals and ideas who have more knowledge on one single skill or idea than you would think there is to know! All because they’ve dedicated themselves to never being just good enough and pushing themselves constantly.
I found that growth is an incredibly slow-moving, constant, lifetime process. And most of that is the daily grind of effort and willingness to grow and understand that it’s never easy and it’s not supposed to be. It’s kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs when I think I can’t do it anymore and I keep doing it anyway.
I’ve learned growth is intentional; it doesn’t happen by accident.
I saw on my Gap Year that growth hurts. It hurts the same way everything hurts when I’m on the last stretch of ascending a hill on a long trek and my muscles are screaming in pain but I keep going because I’ve made it so far and I know that it’s going to be worth it. And I know that it’s going to hurt more the next day, but I do it anyway, because what I will remember is the reward and not the pain. I imagine a lifetime of growth, never any less painful but always stronger for it. I ask myself these questions: “Would I rather not have seen or felt struggle? Do I doubt myself for saying maybe? Am I stronger or weaker for this realization? Do the experiences I’ve had make me indestructible or vulnerable?”
My Gap Year Didn’t Change My Life… I Did
I am who I am. Nothing will change that. I can’t change who I am, and I can be bitter about it or I can maybe try and love myself and maybe do some good in the process.
I guess the answer is choice: What I do with what I have. Do I let the struggles I’ve seen make me more hateful towards those who choose to ignore them? Or do I help them see what can change? It’s something I struggle with every day. I would have never imagined myself where am today. Never. I could have easily been the next kid, fighting for an education, married off at age nine. Instead, I try to have gratitude for what I have. I have choice. And on Winterline, I have had and will have all the resources I need to make my own choices, good ones that I will be proud of and bad ones that I will be thankful to have known and learnt from.
At the beginning of Winterline, they told us it will be as difficult as we make it. We can shuffle around people and cultures like the next tourist or we can simply be present in the crazy whirlpool of opportunities that are already there for us. I’m trying to chose to make an effort every day of my life, whatever it’s going to throw at me. My Gap Year didn’t change my life, I did.
Prathana Shrestha first published this piece on the Winterline Student Voices.
Kai Millici took her Gap Year in Ecuador. Her high school newspaper interviewed her about the experience:
Where in the world are you? What have you been doing this year?
I am living in a small town called Imbaya in a northern region of Ecuador. My program, Global Citizen Year, placed me with a host family where I have a mom, dad, a brother and a sister who are all really involved in the community. I live with them and work in the afternoons with my mom at the Caja de Ahorro y Credito, which is a small credit union for the town. Right now the members are working to meet the requirements to become a Cooperativa, which is a larger credit union that has more benefits for its members.
My program also placed me in the Caja. For about a month I didn’t have anything to do in the mornings before the Caja opened so I was given the option by my mom who asked around to teach English at the local school, work at the health center, help at the local preschool or the local daycare. I chose to help at the preschool to be able to be active in the mornings since I spend most of my time at the Caja sitting, and because it allows me to be more involved in the community by meeting a lot of little kids and their parents. I’ve also come to enjoy it a lot because it’s really interesting to see the first interaction Ecuadorian children have with their education and what the way they are being educated says about the culture. On top of that, I take Spanish class in the city that I live outside of once a week, and do a lot of activities with extended family of which there is a lot.
Why did you decide to take a Gap Year?
I took a Gap Year for a lot of reasons. For one, a lot of my interests that I’m looking into exploring in college are international relations-related: government, development, sustainability, and entrepreneurship. These are all things that I think feel really abstract and foreign if you only study them in a classroom. Especially for interests like diplomacy and development, it felt weird thinking about pursuing those in college, and then potentially as a career, without knowing what any of that actually looked like when all of these policies and negotiations and laws are made and people have to live them. So I guess more simply I wanted to see the effects of development initiatives, see how government interaction with citizens is different in a different culture, and gain a better understanding of what I wanted to study in college before I was learning about it in a classroom. This goal ended up working out really well because the Caja that I work at is one of many under a development organization based in our region, which also gets some aid from the U.S., so it’s been really interesting to observe how that works and the pros and cons of that.
I also felt that throughout high school I had been overly-focused on my grades and getting into college and always kind of looked at everything as having to be a straight path. In a lot of ways that mindset has held me back so I really wanted to have time between high school and college to see who I am and how I react to things when there aren’t grades, tests, activities, cliques, and the like involved.
I haven’t traveled a lot before this year but the small amount I had taught me a lot about how the world is changing, the ways that we can all be similar but the ways that we are different depending on our culture and history, and a bunch of other ideas and questions that got me so curious and excited. Everyone tells you to travel while you have the chance, and I knew I would probably regret it if I didn’t do it. I also wanted to be able to travel somewhere long enough to really get it. Of course, after eight months I’m not going to be Ecuadorian. There are still a lot of things about Ecuador I won’t be able to understand. But the longer I’ve been here the more I realize how much I didn’t know before. I wanted to travel somewhere and be there for a really long time.
Has this experience taught you anything about yourself? If so, what?
It’s taught me so much about myself, but there are a few things that I think keep coming up for me all of the time. The first is that I shouldn’t place so much importance on everything. That’s not to say that I want to stop being punctual and bringing my hardest-working self to any work I do, but working this year and realizing I don’t have to freak out and analyze so much after every time a supervisor says I did something wrong or anything like that is a big thing for me to learn. People’s view of me and my reputation is built over time and I tend to forget that and over-analyze every little reaction someone has to my work. I’m still working on that but I’m glad to have identified that as a problem this year.
I also want to spend more time with my family and prioritize that more, because the work-family/life balance in Ecuador is much more focused on family and being around your extended family all of the time here. There are certain things about that focus here that I don’t think are possible with how my lifestyle and a lot of my peers’ lifestyles are in the U.S., but family as a bigger priority is definitely something I want to take away from this year.
You have to put in a lot of effort to get to know where you are when you’re traveling (talking to a lot of different people, walking around, going to events, activities and all of that), but through doing that here I’ve realized I don’t know that much about Seattle either. By this I mean I spend most of my time with friends in the same parts of Seattle, I don’t prioritize making new friends too much, and I don’t really try to learn about my city because I assume I know it having lived there my whole life. So I guess I’ve learned that it’s really easy to become comfortable and assume you know a place, but you should keep trying to peel back layers so you get to know it even better, and then you get to be in your comfort zone in more places.
What have been a few of the highlights so far?
Last week I went with four of my friends to the Amazon for a week. I live in the mountains so the scenery was still way different from what I was used to, and the climate and how people who live there adapt to it is way different. We got to see a bunch of monkeys and snakes and other animals, swim in the lagoons in black water (to be clear: it was clean it’s just known as black water), canoe a bunch, hang out with our really cool tour guide, hike through the forest, and wake up to the sounds of all the animals because we were sleeping in tents.
I wasn’t placed in Imbaya immediately, first all of the Fellows in my program were in Quito, which is the capital of Ecuador, for orientation where we lived with temporary host families for three weeks and met every day to learn about culture, the education system and that type of thing. I remember getting into Quito on a flight super late at night, and just looking out the window and realizing I was going to be in Ecuador until April. It was one of those moments where you have no idea what you’re looking at or what you’re getting yourself into, but you know eventually you’ll be looking at the same view or same thing with so much more understanding and clarity which was really cool.
On a day-to-day basis I most look forward to just talking with my mom Mayrita every day at lunch. My dad works all day and my brother and sister aren’t home when I’m home for lunch, so I just eat with her. I’ve loved getting closer and closer to her as the weeks have passed and learning about her life and sharing about mine. Forming that relationship was tough at first because both sides have some trouble understanding each other (culturally and language-wise) and now it feels so rewarding being able to talk to her about so much and feeling so comfortable.
What have been some of the challenges? Have you overcome any of them? How?
All of my challenges have stemmed from being out of my comfort zone in one way or another. They range from small things like being laughed at on the bus if I don’t know what stop to get off on, getting a spider bite or having to eat foods that I’m not used to. Those are challenges because no matter how good of a day you are having they remind you that you’re in a place you aren’t used to and that can be hard. The bigger challenges are more constant. It’s seeing your friends all come home for winter break on Snapchat or Instagram while you’re thousands of miles away from your family on Christmas and all you want to do is go home. On the day after the election I was really upset because I did not want Trump to win, and that was really hard because nobody really understood. I felt like I had to suppress my feelings and on top of that I didn’t feel like I could fully communicate my needs or anything like that so it felt lonely and overwhelming. Things like that. You’re kind of constantly stretching yourself and while that’s great it also means there are going to be so many big and small challenges that come up for you when you’re out of your comfort zone.
As far as overcoming them, I try to just think about why I came here in the first place and that helps a little bit. Like not look at what is happening or what I’m feeling in the moment as a bad feeling, but a feeling that reveals something about myself I wouldn’t get to see otherwise, which makes it more of a blessing or something to be grateful for. Which is way way more easier said than done. When that doesn’t do the job I facetime friends or family, listen to music, or just do something that reminds me of home.
Do you feel ready to jump into college next year?
Honestly, the fact that I’ve had a whole year without doing essays and math tests and all of that means I’ll probably have a rougher first semester than most people academically, but I know once I get back into the swing of things it won’t be a problem. But as far as navigating being away from home and having to take care of myself, I have so much more experience with that than I could if I just went straight to college. I also have more questions about the topics I want to study and more clarity on how I want to spend my time, so I think in that sense I’m also much more well-prepared for college than I would be otherwise.
If you had the chance to redo this year and choose Gap Year or college, which would you choose?
Gap Year without a doubt. You’ll never have the opportunity to travel somewhere for this long without having to worry about a career, or taking care of your kids or any of those things. I think a year like this allows you to go into college more passionate about the things you’re studying because you’ve seen it in a sense, so you get more out of it than you might if you did it in your junior year of college when you don’t have a lot of time left.
Overall pros, cons and recommendations?
You learn so much about yourself, you learn so much more about a different culture and a different part of the world than you could if you traveled for less time, and you make a lot of great connections throughout the year, with friends you’re traveling with and the people you meet in your community. Also for those that aren’t convinced it’s a good idea just because of the personal growth stuff, you also learn/practice a different language, get internship experience in a field you’re interested in, and take part in something that’s becoming more and more popular and seen as more valuable to employers and groups that want to see evidence of travel experience and maturity.
It’s super hard and while you adjust to where you are, it never stops being hard for one reason or another just because there are so many facets of it that are out of your comfort zone and you know that you won’t be in your comfort zone for a really long time. That being said, the benefits and what you learn from putting yourself through a gap year are beyond worth the hard parts.
Kai is a Global Citizen Year Fellow spending her bridge year in Ecuador. She is passionate about traveling, journalism, education reform, social justice and Native Peoples’ rights. In high school Kai was involved in soccer and track and field, was editor of her school’s newspaper, and studied international relations at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C for a semester. Her goals for the year are to become fluent in Spanish, gain a better understanding of herself and her values, explore her interests in education and entrepreneurship, and learn about Kichwa history and their current state.
“So, how was your year abroad?”
It’s a loaded question, and one that I still – three months after landing back in New Orleans – struggle to answer adequately. I haven’t given up, though; whenever it comes up, I sing the year’s praises as loudly as possible. “It was absolutely phenomenal. I’d recommend it to anyone. Complete game-changer. The greatest year of my life.”
But really – how do you describe an experience like this? How do you describe the size of the universe? Sometimes I’ll gesticulate wildly, throwing hands everywhere to drive my lofty statements home; I’ll spend awkward seconds searching for high-magnitude words, and, in certain moments, invoke profanity. People get it – “Sounds awesome,” they say, nodding – but I can tell it’s still falling a little short. No matter how [darn] incredible I say this year was, it’ll always mean more to me than I can actually get across.
A Gap Year Changes Lives
What to do with such an inexpressibly positive experience? I can’t just sit on it – the gap year’s the type of experience that changes every life it touches – but, at the same time, it’s not an easy idea to sell. Although “world travel” does hold a certain element of mass appeal, the gap year is inherently a risk. It’s nonessential. It’s different. Gap years are often expensive, sometimes dangerous, and always time-consuming. It’s costly and uncomfortable, and we Americans tend to be both comfortable and cost-averse. The result is usually a quick dismissal of the idea.
So I’m not, at this point in time, attempting to persuade the masses to consider the gap year. That’s a pretty grand endeavor. But in the next few hundred words, I’d like to explain what I actually got – what I’m getting – from the whole experience.
What I Got Out of a Gap Year
Telling people about the journey, to the point that they really understand it, is difficult. (That’s one reason it’s taken me three months to get around to finishing this blog.) I can’t just place people on the clay footpath in the village of Igoda, inviting them into another riotous game of street football as the sun sets below the Tanzanian foothills. I can’t bring everyone beneath the cosmic sky of the otherworldly Peruvian highlands, where the light spots outnumber the dark and the campesinos’ alpaca shift and sputter in their stables. What does it feel like to sit in the Swing at the Edge of the World? “Awesome?” “Incredible?” Yes – indescribably so. You have to go to the Arequipa Food Festival to taste the culture, the music, the empanadas and morocho, and so on. You can’t just hear about it. It’s that exclusivity that makes memories so valuable.
But in the end, this wasn’t a trip about “memories”. Great memories can be made anywhere. I told a friend a few days ago that, all these weeks later, the impact of this journey is just beginning to become apparent to me – long after the scenic views have been taken in and the bucket list entries have been checked off.
Perspective. Perspective. Perspective.
It’s the intangible side of the adventure that sticks: the broadened perspective, the personal clarity, the happy-go-anywhere confidence of a traveler. When you travel (not just “visit”, but travel – there’s a difference), the mundane becomes magical. Watch a Tanzanian woman weave a basket. It’ll blow your mind, and you’ll discover new appreciation for materials, for culture, and for the individual struggles of a billion Third World families. It stays with you.
In such a profoundly new space, simple stuff can become challenging– try making your way across Peru by bus – even as the world’s complications and complexities seem to dissolve before your eyes. What if we all appreciated life as much as Mufindi’s villagers, who mostly live without electricity, running water, healthcare access, or more than a few dollars a day, but still find the time to laugh, play, and love each other? What if our priorities could be more like theirs? I believe that everyone should, at some point, attend a Lutheran church service in Swahili.
Everyone could benefit from a morning bucket shower in a cornfield. (Ask me how much I appreciate hot water now.) It’s all about perspective. Perspective. Perspective. If more people would just go – go to a strange land, simply to do strange things, in strange ways, with complete strangers – the world would become more content, more productive, and more understanding.
Skill Building & Priorities
I was truly fortunate to get my first taste of the world at large before going off to college. The benefits of the post-high school gap year are limitless.
- Academic burnout is a distant memory.
- I’m more self-aware than ever before.
- I became fluent in a second language while abroad, and am well on my way to learning a third.
- I learned what it feels like to (attempt to) teach kids English,to administer life-saving medical treatment, and to sit a the head of a traditional Kihehe farewell ceremony.
I’ve made friends from across the country (amazing, adventurous American travelers who I’m beyond blessed to call close friends) and from across the world (host families, language teachers, doctors, dentists, nonprofit leaders, villages full of kids, and fellow explorers). Priorities have evolved. I’ve progressed in my relationships with family, friends, career, and routine. And at this point I’d feel comfortable living in nearly any city or country in the world – which is fortunate, since they’re pretty much all on my list.
If the year itself was incredible, its long-term impact is utterly astonishing. The trip was a force multiplier, a yearlong dose of unadulterated perspective that will shape every event of the rest of my life. I’m seeing things differently. I’m doing things differently. Everything is different – and, truthfully, that can be painful at times. But in the vast majority of situations the difference is overwhelmingly positive.This was among the greatest opportunities I’ve ever been given and is definitely, to date, the greatest decision I’ve made.
According to Saint Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” I’m only a couple of chapters in, but it’s definitely a really, really good book.
This piece was written by Jack D and shared with us by Carpe Diem Education. You can read the original here.
Make the most of every moment: cherish every incredible sight, LEAP into every crazy opportunity and don’t regret a single second of it!
It sounds cheesy, but the world is a truly remarkable place and we only have a fleeting section of its immense existence to enjoy. Seeing the Madagascans smile their way through life reminded me to appreciate just how lucky I am.
Materially, the locals I met generally had the clothes on their back, the wooden home of their own making, and the money that came in after a hard day’s work to provide food for the family. It’s their ability to value the astounding environment that surrounds them and the companionship of such a close-knit community which brings such light, life and laughter to them.
My friends, family and I live in a materialistic world, and I now think that it only blinds us to the real magic out there… the people, the nature, the cultures, the landscapes.
Madagascar is a one-of- a-kind placce. You may have heard it a lot, but believe it this time. The way to sum up Madagascar in one word: paradise. It really does triumph as the world’s most intense kaleidoscope of nature.
Here are 10 quotes/excerpts from the blog posts and diary I kept in Madagascar where I learned that the simple, natural, stripped back way of life is the best:
1. ‘On my forest walk this morning I was able to witness a myriad of spectacular, endemic wildlife. Of course, the famed lemur, with its quirky and photogenic nature, topped the pile. (Even if it did decide my shoulder seemed a good place for a toilet stop.) However, vibrant frogs, stunning birds and innumerable colourful, camouflaged chameleons also hopped, flapped and crawled through the forest beside me. I love nature!’
2. ‘The truly stunning Nosy Iranja is made up of two jungly islands ringed by utterly pristine white sand beaches and joined by a snaking sandbar around 400m long. Time flew by as we spent it strolling through the tiny idyllic village and market shops, swimming in the crazy warm waters, walking/dancing/running up and down the sandbar, relaxing with a cool drink in hand, and more. Sitting in the middle of the bar as the waves rushed towards us on both sides, watching the sunset, before a delicious candlelit dinner, was the cherry on top of a completely perfect day!’
3. ‘We are all loving how different and exciting every class is. Some students are desperate to learn, seeing English lessons as an opportunity for a better future, and others just there for a little fun, but every class is as rewarding as the next. Being able to see the progress being made and the joy of improvement on the students’ faces is immensely satisfying. It also helps to make the occasional class mango-throwing war less of a stand-out memory! Top tip from Zoe and Amy: don’t forget the stickers in kids’ class or keeping their concentration can be a far more challenging and stressful endeavour.’
4. ‘Tanikely Marine Park: a breath-taking island where crystal clear doesn’t do the water justice and the panoramic view from the lighthouse was totally beautiful. After snorkeling with turtles and a friendly octopus, selfies with a cheeky banana-stealing lemur, sunbathing until we all turned a bright shade of red, and stuffing our faces with a spectacular lunch of crab, shrimp, zebu, fish, lobster and, of course, rice… we departed feeling as though the idyllic Madagascar we had all dreamed of before arriving was nothing compared to the real thing.’
5. ‘Our first stop was Nosy Mamook-rainforest clad and almost completely untouched, aside from one tiny village with a population easily under 50. After an afternoon spent whale and dolphin watching from the boat, we all drifted off to a nice, rocky night’s sleep. The next morning we headed over to Mamook and spent a few hours feeding very hungry lemurs and giant tortoises some bananas, before seeing our first big and truly majestic Baobab tree. By evening, we really were feeling as though we had conquered Madagascar-primary rainforest, lemurs and Baobabs all in one day!’
6. ‘With just a short time left, I’ve been reflecting on how in Madagascar the adventures never ends and the people and places never cease to amaze me. Today a girl of about 8 years old guided me over the rocks to Ampang in high tide after we were embarrassingly thrashed in our volunteer vs. local football tournament. While she knew no English, I felt as though we had known one another for years after our endless giggles and hand-clapping games: communication is about a lot more than words. I think most of us would happily put up with a few more rice and beans meals if it meant we could stay just a little bit longer.’
7. ‘Active turtle surveys have been a success this week with lots of GoPro snaps of our resident Yoshi and his friends filling the turtle logbook. Nudi surveys are also being carried out to assess the health of the reef, and while being very serious and important work, they are also a great chance for some entertainment as we attempt to remain neutrally buoyant while floating upside-down to measure small caterpillar-like creatures in very confined spaces!’
8. ‘It’s been another gratifying, enchanting and relatively “mora mora” week on camp-basically translates as “slowly, slowly” but is generally used to mean calm or chilled out- the perfect way to describe Malagasy culture.’
9. ‘On Nosy Antsoha, the lemur island, the water was mesmerizingly blue and clear, and we all wanted to dive right in. First though, we all gathered our cameras, walking shoes and snorkel gear and headed ashore. It was a steep climb to the top of the island, but thanks to the outstanding panoramic views and countless lemurs descending from the trees to munch on our bananas, I think it was worthwhile! Most excitingly though, as we neared the bottom on the route down, we were surprised by a mini green turtle rescue place! There was about 12 tiny baby turtles, smaller than our palms, and honestly the most adorable things to walk (flap) the earth. Turtles are the most incredible and beautiful species, and I can’t imagine a world without them in it. In fact, I think my dream job may have just changed to turtle saviour!’
10. ‘We all feel that we have learnt even more than we ever expected, both in terms of our environmental and conservational knowledge, and in terms of cultural immersion and experience. Being around locals with so much contentment with the little that they have, and sharing camp with such amazing people, all of whom have fascinating (and often mad) stories to tell, with a shared passion for travel, is something really special.’
Travel Helps Us Find the Path
Travel broadens the mind and reminds us every day to make what we can of where we are and what we have…
On my trip to Madagascar I learnt that good old Dumbledore was right when he said that, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Often we embark on a Gap Year because of hard times. It might be stress and anxiety, trouble at home, exhaustion after that long 14 year non-stop ride on the education train, or even just difficulty in deciding on your future. Whatever it is, go with an open mind and travel will get you back on the right path.
Amelia Green is a 19 year old student with a deep love for travelling thanks to her military father. She was even lucky enough to live abroad in Oman for 3 years and attend an international school, enabling me to
make friends from across the globe. Her trip to Madagascar was a once-in- a-lifetime experience and now she is an intern with The Leap, which she expects will open up opportunities for her in the future.