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International Experience and University

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How many extra credits can I pack in? Will this essay work for my college admissions? Which school is going to be the best for me? Will I make friends?

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!

Professional Networking

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.

More Gap Year News

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The Gap Year movement is definitely on the rise! From personal stories to all the good reasons why a Gap Year is a great choice, there is more media attention on the benefits of taking a Gap Year than ever before. Share these articles with your community:

Considering a Gap Year?

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With a reputation for encouraging every incoming freshman to take one, it’s not secret that Harvard is a powerhouse supporter of the Gap Year. Rhea Bennett shares what she did on hers and asks some questions to help you think through whether a Gap Year is a good idea for you too:

“Many of us work our butts off during high school to be the best we can be, and that can be tiring. Many students come out of high school with depression or anxiety, or are simply burnt out. That is a-okay! You are allowed to take time off from school to maintain your mental health and well being either before college and/or during college. It is not a race to graduate.”

Yara Shahidi Will Take a Gap Year Before Going to Harvard

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In entertainment and higher education news, another high profile young woman is taking a Gap Year and going public with her plans. Teen Vogue reports:

“Black-ish star Yara Shahidi announced on Instagram last month that she’d accepted an invitation to attend Harvard, where she wanted to major in sociology and African-American studies. But she won’t be headed there this fall, she told InStyle. Like her soon-to-be classmate Malia Obama, she’ll be taking a gap year.”

What You Need to Know if You’re Thinking of Taking a Gap Year

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The South African College of Applied Psychology provides some helpful resources for those in the decision making stage with this article. Check it out:

“What are your motivations for taking a gap year? Give real thought to the rationale behind delaying your further studies. Many of the best benefits of taking a gap year are difficult to quantify: maturity, confidence and a refined sense of direction for instance. As a result, the questions you need to ask yourself should be deep and broad.”

Programs Aim to Make a Gap Year Possible, Regardless of Financial Background

NBC takes the time to highlight Gap Year programs that are working to increase economic parity by providing options for students with financial need. We need more of this!

“Princeton, like Harvard, encourages its incoming first-years to delay the start of college. Programs such as Bridge Year offer incentives to make it as easy as possible, regardless of financial background.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but statistics suggest that a break between high school and college produces students who are more dedicated to their courses and more apt to get involved in service work.”

Gap Year in the News

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There’s been a lot of great media coverage of the Gap Year movement this spring. Here are a few stories to encourage, inspire, and educate yourself, or skeptical friends about the value of a Gap Year.

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Let’s start with two guys who opted for a Gap Year after high school and what they learned, published in The Almanac:

“Asked about being self conscious as an American abroad, Peter sounded a note of humility. “I would never want to assert myself or do anything self-centered (or act to advance) a goal of mine that is self-centered,” he said. “My willingness and interest in using Spanish kind of stems from that respect.””

On walking the whole Appalachian Trail, he said:

“I would say it was very enlightening,” he said of the hike. “When you’re out in the woods every day, you have nothing to think about but yourself.” One insight: “You can kind of wing it if you really put your mind to something. As long as you put your effort into (it) you can achieve some pretty awesome things,” he said. “This is a pretty awesome thing, at least for me. It was something I didn’t think I could do.”

Selling Your Business? Consider Taking a Gap Year

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According to the Miami Herald, Gap Years aren’t just for young people any more! Mid-life or mid-career Gap Years can be the catalyst to the next big thing in your life. Consider this:

“These benefits are not limited to college students. I have witnessed highly successful individuals take gap years after selling their businesses, when they are not yet willing to retire but want to take some time off. They have used the time very wisely to attain even greater professional and/or personal success and fulfillment. Here is the secret:

First, make sure your financial house is in order. Consult your financial advisors and develop a financial plan.”

Voices: How my Gap Year Taught me That I Matter

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USA Today College featured a young man who discovered his worth on a Gap Year:

“Bali was the dose of perspective I needed in my life. Everywhere I looked, I saw people less fortunate than me, but I saw so many smiles as well. These were people who were content because they had people around them, and they were simply happy to be living life. Any love you showed to the children at the school would be reflected back at you two times over. It was a small haven of pure good, and for the first time in my life, I was so happy to be on this planet. Even though I wasn’t happy with myself, I was happy to be where I was.”

18-Year-Old Works Three Jobs to Afford Gap Year Travel to Machu Picchu

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How do you afford to take a Gap Year? YOU WORK! Hard, and a lot, just like Isabel Conde did, as told by Teen Vogue:

“Isabel took a gap year following high school graduation in 2016 and split her time among babysitting, being a law office secretary, and working at World Market. Six months of up to 60 hours per week later, she saved $7,500 for her trip and $1,000 more for college. She put Machu Picchu on her dream board to keep her going.
“I just kinda bought a plane ticket and got on a plane by myself — I didn’t know anyone in Peru,” she told Insider. “I had this moment where I was like ‘What am I doing!’, but as soon as I got [to Peru], I saw the mountains, nature, the beautiful people, and the culture, and I knew I did the best thing I could for myself.””

Gap Year Instagram Inspiration!

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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:

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Follow American University on Instagram:

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Follow Carpe Diem Education on Instagram:

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Follow Amigos de las Americas on Instagram:

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Follow Global Routes on Instagram:

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Follow NOLS on Instagram:

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College Applications and Gap Years

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Sterling College Senior Dinner

Sterling College Senior Dinner


What do college admissions officers think about Gap Years, and how might the decision to take a Gap Year impact your college application prospects? In this post Tim Patterson, Director of Admission at Sterling College in Vermont, sheds some light on Gap Years from the perspective of a college admissions officer.

More and more students are choosing to take a gap year between high school and college. For college admissions officers like me, the growing popularity of gap years is a trend that merits close attention. Personally, I am a big fan of gap years because I believe that students who take a gap year arrive at college having gained a clearer sense of purpose that helps them focus and succeed in their program of choice. However, Gap Year students need to figure out how to approach the college application process, including the question of when to apply.

Should I Apply To College Before Taking A Gap Year?

Students often ask if they should finish their college applications and defer enrollment before taking a Gap Year. Most colleges, including Sterling College, allow students who receive an offer of admission to defer for up to one year by submitting an enrollment deposit. Alternatively, some students choose to hold off and complete the application process during their gap year, or apply after the gap year is complete. There are pros and cons to each approach.

The conventional wisdom that I usually hear from college counselors and parents of gap year students is that students should finish the college application process before embarking on a gap year. The argument goes something like this:

Settling on a college before a gap year helps students because they can access all of the resources of their high school college counseling office while completing their college applications. Additionally, by deferring college enrollment before a Gap Year students can make the most of their Gap Year experience instead of being distracted by college applications.

If you stop and consider the perspective of many college counselors and parents this argument makes a lot of sense. After all, counselors and parents have been known to worry that a Gap Year might somehow lead a student off track, and they want the reassurance of knowing where and when the student will go to college. Also, since high schools keep track of the plans of graduating seniors and often look favorably on graduating a high percentage of college bound students, guidance counselors can sometimes feel pressure to successfully “close the file” on each student before graduation. However, I think a different approach is often the right call.

You can apply to college during a Gap Year

You absolutely CAN apply to colleges during a Gap Year, and for many students I think that doing so is the right choice. Here’s why:

A Gap Year is a time of growth and change

Students almost always gain a great deal of perspective and maturity during a Gap Year, and many emerge from the experience with new academic interests and a more evolved sense of purpose. Applying this new perspective and self-knowledge to the college search can lead to students to consider college options that are a better fit given the self-knowledge gained during the gap year. Precluding that possibility by choosing a college before the gap year might be the “safest” option, but I think it’s a missed opportunity.

Not going to college right away isn’t a catastrophe

The average age of a student here at Sterling College in Vermont is 22, and generally speaking students who have life and work experience before college are more focused and successful in their studies. There is nothing wrong with delaying college until you’re fully ready, clear-headed, and prepared. If your Gap Year leads you to other opportunities, it’s OK to take advantage of them instead of imposing a fixed end to your gap year experience.

A Gap Year can make your college applications stronger

When my colleagues and I are evaluating applications, we look for things that set an applicant apart. Students who are able to describe their Gap Year are often our most captivating applicants, and we know from experience that students who have completed a Gap Year are often better prepared for success in college than their peers who attend college straight out of high school.

Students with a clear sense of purpose thrive in college

I keep coming back to the phrase “sense of purpose” because I think it’s a pivotal part of the whole conversation about Gap Years and college applications.

Like many colleges, Sterling College has a clear mission and purpose – we happen to be focused on a mission of environmental stewardship, with majors in Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Food Systems, Ecology, Outdoor Education, and Environmental Humanities. It takes a very focused student to succeed at Sterling, and we look hard for evidence of that sense of purpose during the application process. A gap year is a great opportunity to hone in on a sense of purpose, and then approach college applications with clearer focus and intent.

Gap Year students can be savvy about financial aid

Finally, a word about affordability. I believe that we are in the midst of a student debt crisis in this country, and I am often shocked at how little students and parents know about financial aid and college affordability in general. I could write a whole series of posts about financial aid, but here are the points that are most relevant to gap year students:

  • Financial aid packages can change from year to year.
  • Students are in the best position to advocate for an affordable financial aid package BEFORE they commit to a college.

By committing to a college before receiving the financial aid package for the academic year in which they plan to attend, students sacrifice all of their leverage and are unable to compare financial aid packages and find the best fit at the best price.

The choice is yours

Ultimately, the choice of whether to apply to college before, during, or after a gap year is up to you. If you have already have a clear sense of where and why you want to go to college, by all means go ahead and lock in your plans before your gap year. Just don’t feel as if there is only one path that you need to follow. One of the most important lessons of a gap year is that you are free to make your own choices, and use your own compass to navigate the world. This is true in life, and in college as well.

To contact Tim Patterson, or learn more about Sterling College, please visit www.sterlingcollege.edu.

First Annual AGA Gap Year Awards are Presented to…

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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

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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

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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.

Corinne Guidi

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

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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

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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.

Congratulations!

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.

Travel Access Project Announces Grants for Gap Year Travel

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$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.

Apply Here!

  • 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.

Apply Now!

And please share with every one you know who might be interested!

Taking a Gap Year After College

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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!

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raquel headshotFreshly 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.

 

Making Meaningful Connections Through Language Barriers

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Every part of traveling somewhere new presents it’s own challenges, whether it be understanding the local custom of haggling in markets in Morocco or distinguishing between local dialects in India. One of the most exciting, and arguably the most challenging, parts of traveling to different places around the world is learning how to communicate and make connections with people who don’t speak the same language. For some, this means relying on the power a game of soccer can have in making new friends, for others it means connecting through different avenues like art, music or dance.

As Allen Klein once said, “There are no language barriers when you are smiling.” Though we may not literally speak the same language, in being human we share a commonality between all us that allow us to communicate without the need for any words – the ability to feel, and to share those emotions. In being able to communicate our happiness through a smile, or sadness through the teardrops that fall from our eyes, we transcend any language barriers that may step in our way. I have seen time and time again in my experience traveling how easy it can be to communicate once we let go of the safety of our words and begin simply expressing ourselves using our emotions and most basic expressions.

The problem is not that we are unable to connect with others through language barriers, it’s that we are unable to recognize that sharing a language is not the only way to do so. Roughly 6909 languages are currently listed in the Ethnologue catalogue of world languages, each with their own ways to describe things, feelings and emotions we all encounter in our everyday lives. In each language there are words used to describe certain feelings and emotions that are simply untranslatable to any other language. This means that certain feelings, ideas or things are simply untranslatable from one language to the next, forcing us to once again rely on the most basic of communication devices we all possess – the many different ways of expression.

Ways to Communicate Without Language

It can be daunting going somewhere new without speaking the language and feeling like you may not be able to connect with those around you. Here are some ways you CAN connect with those around you without the need to speak a common language.

Bring a pack of cards

While not everyone in the world may speak Frisian, most people have had experience playing some form of cards. By having a pack of cards ready to share in the common room of the hostel or in the waiting room of the bus station you can bypass the need for words by partaking in an activity that may already be familiar to those around you.

Pack a beach ball

One experienced traveler I spoke to stated that one of the things she always kept in her suitcase was a deflated beach ball, particularly when they were visiting a place where there were kids that didn’t speak the same language as she did. By having the beach ball, they were able to join the kids in having fun and playing games without the need for a common language, simply relying on their ability to have fun instead.

Bring some music

A form of expression without the need for a common language, music is something that brings even the most different of people together. I may have had trouble asking the taxi driver for directions in Costa Rica, but when he heard my iPod playing Bob Marley he spent half an hour singing along with me to his entire first album.

Traveling somewhere that doesn’t speak the same language forces us to communicate through so much more than simply just what we choose to verbalize. It forces us to communicate using our body language, facial expressions, gestures and anything else we can use to get our point across. We spend so much of our time with people around us that can speak the same language that we have come to rely on shared language as the only way to communicate, without recognizing that it is not the only way to communicate.

It is travel that has shown me how alike we all are, regardless of the language we speak, the religion we practice or the beliefs we hold. I may not be able to speak your language and we may not hold the same views, but we both understand the same feelings of pain and hope. It’s this ability to feel, this humanity within all of us – that connects us all, regardless of the languages we speak. This is something I think we need to remember when traveling somewhere new, that even when it seems impossible to communicate without speaking the local language, communication without language is possible, and sometimes even more genuine than the words that come out of our mouths. After all, there are so many more parts of what makes us human than that which is verbally communicated.

Winterline: My Gap Year Hasn’t Opened My Eyes to the World

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Finding Acceptance

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.

Discovering Growth

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.

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Prathana Shrestha first published this piece on the Winterline Student Voices.

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