What Matters More Than Talent: Meta-Learning

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I once led a six-week leadership retreat for five young people taking self-directed Gap Years. I rented them their own apartment in the bustling town of Ashland, Oregon, and challenged them to devise a clear set of independent learning goals, which they would pursue with daily mentorship from me and my co-leader.

One student wanted to learn about biology and Kendo; another wanted to improve her photography and web design skills. So I sent them away to interview biologists, martial arts instructors, photographers, and designers. My students boldly introduced themselves to complete strangers, pushed themselves to learn both online and offline, and blogged about their successes and failures, over and over again.

Those were just the weekdays. On the weekends, I sent them on wild adventures to build their self-directed resolve in some rather unusual ways.

For “hobo weekend,” they hiked on train tracks (on which trains weren’t actually running) to a local reservoir and camped out under tarps and thin blankets, a lesson in the importance of maintaining one’s attitude in a difficult situation: like not having a home to return to at night.

For “travel weekend,” I challenged teams of students to get as far away from our home base as possible, and back, in 48 hours with only $50. I showed them how to use Craigslist (to find cheap rideshares) and Couchsurfing (to find free housing), gave them some safety protocols, and then sent them on their way. One team made it as far as San Francisco, a 700-mile round-trip.

For “entrepreneur weekend,” the students attempted to earn as much money as possible using only $5 seed capital. For “paperclip weekend,” they traded up a worthless starting object (a paperclip) into a more valuable one (a set of golf clubs) using only their wits.

For the final weekend, I gave them surprise one-way tickets on a Portland-bound Amtrak train, a to-do list with tasks drawn from previous retreat activities, and the challenge to eat, sleep, and get themselves back four days later, with a budget of only $80 each. (My co-leader also boarded the train, trailing the group undetected with a fake moustache, as an extra safety measure.) Spoiler alert: they made it.


What Matters More Than Talent

When the program ended, everyone went home happy—and I spent a long time asking myself why I ran it.

The leadership retreat combined some of the most fun and interesting activities I’d picked up over my years of hanging around innovative summer camps, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, world travelers, and outdoor educators. I hadn’t thought about how they fit together before I ran the program, but there had to be a common thread. What was it?

An excerpt from a blog post by the author Seth Godin finally nailed the answer for me:

“An organization filled with honest, motivated, connected, eager, learning, experimenting, ethical and driven people will always defeat the one that merely has talent. Every time.”

The world is full of places that try to teach “talent,” school and college being the preeminent two. But the world has far fewer places that attempt to teach honesty, motivation, ethics, and the other traits Godin described.

Yet for many businesses and other enterprises, these traits ultimately matter more than talent. People get hired for professional skills and fired for personal skills.

That’s when I realized that what I was teaching at the leadership retreat was what educators call meta-learning: the personal skills that help you learn effectively in complex and unpredictable environments.

Building the Skills That Matter

The leadership retreat wasn’t really about sleeping under a tarp or finding rideshares or learning Kendo: it was about building resourcefulness, creativity, self-regulation, self-motivation, conscientiousness, and focus.

It was about greeting a stranger, learning from a defeat, arguing one’s case, and telling a good story. Meta-learning was the thread that connected all of my own formative educational experiences, and I was trying to pass that thread along.

If you’ve spent the majority of your life on the competitive college-prep track, then you’ve gained a very specific set of meta-learning skills:

The ones that help you succeed in structured and academic-focused learning environments. But if you don’t see yourself becoming an academic or corporate professional—if you want to have a more self-directed life that defies conventional expectations and boundaries—than you’ll need to expand your meta-learning capacities.

Gap Years are Laboratories for Meta-Learning

When you leave the academic bubble to travel, work, and learn in the real world, you’re navigating complex and unpredictable environments. You’re tackling novel, multi-faceted problems each day. You’re developing your heart as much as much as your mind.

No matter if you sign up for a traditional Gap Year program, do a crazy program like mine, or bootstrap a solo gap year, you’re doing a service to your career and your soul. You’re signing up for an experience that doesn’t just pour information into your head; it helps you learn how to learn. The investment will pay for itself over and over again.


Blake Boles is the author of Better Than College and The Art of Self-Directed Learning. He leads gap year and travel programs through his company Unschool Adventures.

This post was adapted from Chapter 15 (“Learning How to Learn”) of The Art of Self-Directed Learning.

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!

Bridging Culture Gaps

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You don’t have to go overseas to experience a different culture – there are a variety of deep and wonderful cultures anywhere. Thus, the most important thing is the way in which you approach any different culture. For instance, traveling from North Carolina to Los Angeles is no doubt going to be a different experience and there’s often little need to go to the other side of the globe to push your comfort zone.

That being said, in the words of Holly Bull from the Center for Interim Programs, “Perhaps the most important aspect of a Gap Year is the student making their own decision.” In other words, whether you feel called to be in Hawaii working with dolphins, in Louisiana engaging in service-learning about environmental issues, or in India living in a yoga ashram, the fact that you as the student are making your own decision is the largest predictor of a “successful” Gap Year.

Here are a few tips that are important to remember when you’re thinking about visiting a foreign culture:

The bottom line

There are no excuses for “inappropriate.” No matter what, if you feel unsafe, threatened, of if you generally feel a bit off about what’s going on, then no amount of cultural norms make it okay. If, particularly as a woman, a man is touching your leg or neck, in almost every culture such behavior is unacceptable unless you’re at the least dating . . . no matter what the man may say. Please, for your and every other traveler’s sake, tell the man “no” firmly and leave.

Ease in

If you’re traveling for three months, spend the first months simply engaging and observing: try to see things from the local perspective and then, when you feel comfortable, venture into sharing some of your own opinions and cultural norms. This extends to simple things like taking pictures, or constantly asking “how much is that” . . . these are things that leave a big and stereotypical footprint that inevitably put you in a box and limits your experience as much as it shows your ignorance of the local cultures.

Remember to travel lightly

This is in reference to the environment as much as it’s in reference to the culture. But in general, traveling with an open mind rather than insisting on reinforcing your own opinions is the best way to make friends and experience the local cultures authentically. For instance, when traveling in a Muslim country, learning about Islam, cultural values as they are represented on the ground, and the state of the average family is going to be far more educational than watching the news about radical Islam. The reality is that the differences that divide us as a species are far less numerous than the similarities.

Be a good guest

It’s often said in other parts of the world that the “guest is god.” It’s a way of saying that when a guest comes in, that you’ll be treated as if you were royalty with all things shared and all invitations made. Oftentimes, in a more impoverished setting, the family may give you (a single person), the only bedroom while the entire family sleeps in the living room (where some of the rest of the family would sleep on any other night). Even though this may be uncomfortable, it’s probably rude in these circumstances to refuse.

However, Americans consume enough as it is . . . so don’t simply take everything without consideration for the rest of the family nor for the power of cross cultural communication.

Give back

One night, offer to cook your host family or friends or coworkers a traditional meal from your home as a thanks for their hospitality and to reduce their work for the evening. In the author’s experience, there was a time the family was making hot water so he could take a shower. They had gone out in the woods, cut down wood to burn simply so he could take a hot shower. He didn’t know about this, and so consumed three-quarters of the water from the bucket in a ‘new and exciting bucket-shower’ as the locals do. However, unknowingly, the entire family was now relegated to using only the final quarter of the bucket for their shower.

Dealing with food specialties

In most cases, it’s better to make excuses rather than refusals. It’s one of those understood issues of living culturally that if you don’t like a particular food, or if you’re a vegetarian for instance, then rather than saying that you “don’t eat meat,” say that you’re “allergic to meat,” or a vegetarian. Of course this is perhaps a bit misleading. However, it’s an understood way out from cultural expectations and half-truths are often understood culturally better in different countries than here in the States.

Traveling with expectations is overrated

It’s impossible to walk into an experience without expectations – they are usually subconscious and fed by media, friends, or your own American culture. However, being a good student in life means being open to being wrong. Walking in as an anthropologist in lieu of an “American” – inasmuch is possible – is invaluable. Keep your mind (and your eyes) open.

Keep a journal

We know . . . this sounds like homework, and who wants to spend countless hours writing in a journal? But perhaps one of the most important aspects of a structured Gap Year is keeping a journal. How often do you know how you really feel until you’ve thought about it a bit? How often do you just remember that really great insight without writing it down? The point of it, above all else, is to keep the reflective element of learning a daily practice rather than simply photographing the local people and ghosting through your experience.

In all, cultural travel at its best consists of two main ingredients: common sense and respect. Respect the local people, local traditions, local food and way of life, local authorities. Also be sure to respect yourself and fellow travelers. Keep an open mind and use a dash of humility and common sense, and you’re sure to have a pleasurable experience no matter where you travel.

How to Talk About Your Gap Year Without Annoying Everyone

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A nugget of wisdom from good ol’ Lorelai Gilmore:

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

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

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

How to NOT sound like an arrogant-annoyance

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


Don’t be the one-upper

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

Cool it on the conversation policing, especially in public

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

Integrate your experiences

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


Mutual Interest is Key

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

Ask them questions, too

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

Don’t minimize their experiences

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

Tell them you love them and are thankful for them

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


“How” to share versus “what” to share

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

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

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

Happy chatting and good luck!

How to Bootstrap a Solo Gap Year

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

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

But he had one big problem: money.

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

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

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

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

A Different Approach: Providing Value to Supporters

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe for Independent Gap Year Funding

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

Here are the ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Conferences for Gap Year Students to Attend

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Startup Stock Photos

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

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

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

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

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

Attend a Tedx Conference

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


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

Experience a Student Leadership Conference

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

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

Take a Stance!

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


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

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

Attend One Young World

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

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

Take a TEFL Course

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

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

How to Put a Gap Year on Your Resume

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

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

General Gap Year Resume Tips:

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


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

Focus on the skills learned.

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

Put it in the right place.

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

Know the audience.

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

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

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

Tips for the Recently Returned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Get Hired Already!

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

A Short History of the Gap Year

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

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

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

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

Considered an Essential Part of Education

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

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

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

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

Gap Activity Projects & Frank Fisher

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

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

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

Gathering Early Data on Gap Year Students

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

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

Gap Years Have Clear Benefits

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why I Decided to Take a Bridge Year

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

All That Awaits Me in Ecuador for Certain is Uncertainty

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


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

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

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

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


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

Exploring the World & Myself: Why I’m Taking a Gap Year

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Everyone has different reasons for taking a gap year – whether it be simply a need for adventure and travel or a break from school. Preparing to begin my Gap Year has caused me to reflect on the reasons I decided to initially embark upon this crazy adventure.

Like many things, my decision to take a Gap Year started with high school. I’ll be honest – high school was not at all an easy or enjoyable time in my life. While I did make some amazing memories and had many friends as well as very good grades, I found it extremely hard to match my inner feelings with the happy persona I showed to everyone. I may have appeared to be a happy, go lucky girl, but in reality there were many mornings I simply didn’t think I would be able to get out of bed and head to the school that caused me so much anxiety and stress.

To put it lightly, I suffered from an extreme case of cognitive dissonance – my inner dark feelings colliding with my happy, go lucky appearance.

I have a particular photo on my phone of myself and some friends at a conference I helped organize. We’re all smiling with our arms around each other. We look like a very happy, tight knit group of friends. And to be fair, we really were. Unbeknownst to the eye however, in the moment this picture was taken I was in the midst of a panic attack and tears were pouring from my eyes. It was at this point I knew something needed to change. Fast – before it was too late. A couple weeks later I found myself in the emergency room of the local hospital. My eyes and cheeks were burning from the tears that had been pouring from my eyes for the last five hours. It was there that I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the symptoms of depression that come with it. That was the definitive breaking point.

I went on antidepressants to control my mood swings (and to give my poor eyes a break from crying). Those few weeks in between that visit to the hospital and the medication taking effect were the scariest weeks of my life. I couldn’t trust myself, I felt like I wasn’t in control of who I was anymore. I was honestly scared for my life.

Thankfully, a year and a half later I can barely recognize that person. I am still on medication for my anxiety and depression, but I have come miles and grown leaps and bounds since that cold spring evening last year. One thing I knew then, and still know now, is that I needed time to explore who I was away from an institution like school or a full time job. I needed to figure out how I could become the best version of myself possible before I headed off to any kind of university or college.

A Gap Year to Explore the World & Myself

This is when the idea of a Gap Year first came to mind. In August of last year I made a spur of the moment decision to visit my family in Germany for a month before completing my final year of high school. This trip marked a decision that has impacted my life ever since. The decision to once more begin taking risks, to once more begin living. It was there in Germany that I realized life (and travel) is all about taking risks, taking a chance, daring to leap without looking back.

In Germany, meeting my cousins for the first time

In Germany, meeting my cousins for the first time

I felt myself again for the first time in many months in Germany. I felt alive in a way I hadn’t for a long while (as cliché as that may sound). I began writing again, something I hadn’t done for a long time. It was during this time that I began blogging about my experiences with mental health and travel. I not only fell back in love with travel, but I also fell back in love writing, with putting words to page in a way that was honest and made me vulnerable.

That month in Germany stitched me back together again. I begged my mother to let me stay in Germany, to let me finish high school there. (You can read about that experience here.) Ultimately, due to the wrath of my mother and pleading from my father, I came back to finish that final year of high school. But things had changed. No longer was I having panic attacks on a daily basis (I actually made it an ENTIRE YEAR of not having a single panic attack on the bus). No longer did I care so much about the difference between a 90% and a 94%.

I had changed. That change brought on my love of travel. I experienced first handedly how travel can change a person. Make no mistake – I’m not advocating for anyone to quit their job and travel in hopes of fixing all their problems and becoming a better person. Adventurous Kate wrote a fantastic article about why we can’t expect travel to fix all our problems. But for me, that month away from home and in a completely different environment completely changed me.

Complete, unapologetic happiness at Schloss Crottorf, Germany.

Complete, unapologetic happiness at Schloss Crottorf, Germany.

Doing the Hard Work

So, for the past year I have been working hard to make my dream of travelling and returning to Germany a reality. I have spent countless hours on my knees weeding gardens, have babysat many a screaming toddler (on top of maintaining a decent grade point average in order to eventually go to university) and in the past two months have worked a full time job. It is only now I am ready to embark on my journey. And make no mistake – I have fought, hard, in order to make this experience possible. Many assume that if you are travelling often or taking a Gap Year, or in my case writing about the best parts of travel, that you must not be working for it. There is a common myth that in order to travel you must have rich parents.

While it is true that I have been blessed with wonderful, loving parents, it is my work ethic and love for travel that has enabled me to embark on this year long trip.

I’m going with little more than nothing in my bank account. I am relying on the hospitality of loved ones (and their couches) and the kindness of strangers. I realize I’m naive and young and stupid and all the things an eighteen year old girl preparing for her first solo trip can be, but I am prepared for whatever hurdles life throws at me. I can take it. I’ve proved that over and over again. I have survived storms and tsunamis (though internal they may be), I have climbed mountains and have had my fair share of battles. I can do this (I repeat in my head as I prepare to step on the plane, as I say goodbye to my perfect family).

I am broke but happy. Anxious but hopeful. I have a backpack on my back and a camera by my side. There’s nothing more I could ask for in the world.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health please see a professional as soon as possible. You can find a list of mental health resources HERE. Know that while friends are also great to talk to, there is nothing more helpful than talking to a certified professional about what you are feeling.