Yes, travelling is a popular way for students to commemorate their graduations, with numerous grad trips happening yearly both at the end of high school and the end of college or university. You get one last chance to hang out with your circle of friends you went to school with, while experiencing a new culture, language, and country, and having fun.
But what about a gap year after high school, college, or university?
Although not very common in North America, the concept of a Gap Year is very popular throughout the rest of the world, particularly in Europe. Students in Europe are actually encouraged to take a year off school, following the completion of high school, to explore the world, work somewhere (or at many places), meet new people, and discover themselves.
Benefits of taking a gap year
Figure yourself out – this is definitely easier said than done. What does “figuring yourself out” really mean? I would guess it means that when you graduate high school, you’re edging on 18 years of age and most people, in all fairness, at 18, have no idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives — or at least for the start of the rest of their lives. Maybe some “time off” from the usual is what you need to figure out what it is that you want to do (or the other side of the battle, which is figuring out maybe what you don’t want, so it’s easier to come by what you DO want).
Learn meaningful things – learning can happen in any number of way. As babies, we learned by synthesizing everything in our environments – colours, people, foods, sounds. As we learned more and more about these things, we started making up our minds about which colours appeal to us more, which people are closest to us, which foods taste the best, and which sounds sound the nicest. As young adults who are living in a somewhat moderated and “normal,” familiar environment, sometimes for years at a stretch, we seem to have learned and synthesized much of the stimulus available to us there. A change in environment opens us up to a plethora of learning opportunities. You not only see more vibrance, meet different people, enjoy the cuisine and music of different places, but you learn life skills. You learn to think on your feet, you learn to plan (maybe the hard way), you learn to see things a different way, you learn to be more accepting, you learn (eventually) to keep an open mind, and you learn to let yourself be vulnerable to all that learning.
Reach out of your comfort zone – usually, your gap year does not entail spending a year shuffling between all-inclusive resorts on one Caribbean island after another. Majority of your gap year travels will consist of working during your trip to fund it, living at hostels, sharing rooms and meals with strangers. Most people are not used to this. Reaching out of your comfort zone will teach you great things, if only you’re open to them.
Find your purpose – this is the “why” to what you do. Similar to the “figure yourself out” point, travelling gives you the chance to find your purpose. When you meet people, see things outside your normal environment, it is possible you may find something you are passionate about. There is something out there that you were born to do. We can’t all find that thing by sitting on our couch watching TV. Maybe you can. But exposure will never go waste. You will see, hear, feel, and experience so many things that can lead to your purpose in life or enhance your vision of your existing life.
Companies and websites that you can use:
- EF Education First – this company was founded in 1965 in Sweden and specializes in international education opportunities for students and adults. They have a special “EF Gap Year Abroad” program.
- Prospects UK – targeted towards education and work experience in UK for students and young professionals.
- CIEE – targeted towards people travelling to and from US for their gap year programming.
- Projects Abroad – international volunteer-based platform for people who want to experience different cultures and make a difference. They also offer internships.
- Go Overseas – short- to long-term work, study, intern, and volunteer programs abroad.
I hope that is a list enough to get you started. Whether you are in high school, university, or college, consider taking a gap year to broaden your horizons.
Tips to help your gap year consideration search:
- Check out these and other online resources to do your research on the companies and institutions that can help make this happen for you.
- Read/watch testimonials of real people who took a gap year to see their experiences, what they learned, and what they would/wouldn’t do again.
- From those same testimonials, find out how the specific travel company or educational company they used helped make their gap year experience stress-free or the opposite.
- Look at your school’s resources as well – a lot of schools have tie-ups or at least information about other schools’ international student/exchange/visiting/internship programs. Ask your counsellor if your school can provide any for you to follow through the school or independently.
Comment below with questions you would like answered in upcoming posts, and I will do my best to research and answer them as soon as possible!
4N (alternative scripture for the word “foreign”) is an exclusive travel blog series by Anushree Joshi. She is a travel fanatic and aspiring world traveller. Check out her adventures, tips, and travel series articles on her blog at anushreejoshi.wordpress.com. Read the introductory post here, and click here to see all 4N series articles.