Former GR leader researches the Gap Year experience

One of our beloved Global Routes program leaders, Nicole Sheldon-Desjardins, conducted her graduate research on the impact of the gap year experience on Global Routes gap year alumni. This was an exciting opportunity for our alumni to contribute to exciting research about the increasingly popular choice to seek educational experiences outside of the classroom and to give us here at Global Routes a better understanding of the motivation and experiences of our students over the years. Thanks to all the participants from our programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America from 2005-2010! Below is a sampling of their responses.

Why did you participate in a Global Routes program?

  • I’m interested in community service, particularly on a local, community level and particularly in the realm of education. Global Routes was the perfect complement to the first half of my gap year, in which my program was largely nomadic-style and travel based. I liked that Global Routes would then give me the chance to get to know one community very well, and set roots, and consider more deeply some of the questions that had been raised in my broader travel the semester before.
  • Global Routes presented an emphasis on personal growth through cooperation and volunteer work. They provide a deep immersion into other cultures as well as personal support from the group leaders.
  • I loved Global Routes’ description on the website of full immersion in another culture. That was a huge goal of mine. I really wanted to make Africa a piece of me since I had fallen in love with it during high school, and Global Routes gave me the structure that allowed me to find myself in Tanzania. I also really appreciated the program’s balance of cultural immersion, language lessons, sightseeing (safaris!), and activities that would teach us to function in a completely foreign environment.

What new skills or qualities did you begin to develop during your gap year?

  • I got better at pushing myself outside my comfort zone and engaging actively with unfamiliar situations.  I also learned a lot about how people interact, by observing the children at my school and by trial and error in the classroom: experimenting to find out what worked and what didn’t in terms of creating a constructive, engaging learning environment.
  • I gained so much independence it is unbelievable. I have become a much stronger and assertive person and at the same time…I feel like I have become more compassionate and empathetic.
  • I think the quality I most developed during my gap year was an ability to accept and appreciate things as they were, thinking analytically about them without criticizing or wishing them different.  I learned to live in the present and to go with the flow, letting great things happen and appreciating every event, no matter how small.

Did or do you attend college? 

All but a few students ultimately attended, are attending or plan to attend college.

What is/was/will be your major?

Students studied/are studying in a wide variety of fields: geography, linguistics, international studies, Spanish, pre-medicine, journalism, psychology, social work, earth and environmental sciences, English literature, anthropology, resource conservation, etc.

What impact did your gap year have on your academic decisions?

  • My gap year has really made me realize how much more there is to learn about how the world works by interacting with it and seeing processes in action, rather than merely reading about them remotely. I learned…about complicated systems, considered them from varied perspectives, and questioned assumptions I didn’t even realize I had. It’s made me aware of how much learning happens through experiential means, and I am determined to make the most of all the different avenues for learning here at college. It’s also made me even more astutely aware of what a privilege it is for me to get to go to college like this, and have the luxury of study. I’m motivated to get as much as I can out of my classes and my time here, so I can be better prepared to share it with more people in the world who haven’t had the same opportunities I have.
  • Though I already knew where I would be going to college when I took my gap year, the experienced encouraged me to take a more diverse range of classes and helped to make dorm life more relaxing. As a result of my gap year I feel I was better able to meet people, life with strangers, and manage my time.
  • It made me aware that what I do in the classroom is only part of my learning experience, and as such has made me more active outside academics and less worried about perfect grades.

What impact did your gap year have on your career path?

  • It has made me more certain than ever than international service is where my heart is and has given me new perspective on the best ways to go about it.
  • It has solidified the idea that international development will and can be part of my future.
  • My experiences with people in Tanzania…have influenced my decision to pursue a career that involves a high level of interaction with people from completely different backgrounds, languages, and cultures from my own.
  • I am still a First-year in college, but because of my gap year experiences in Tanzania I hope to have a career in some sort of development work, ideally in East Africa.
  • I am very interested in working with rural communities to conserve resources, largely because of my experience living and working with a small rural community in Costa Rica.
  • I learned that I enjoy working with underserved populations and that in the future I would like to work as a doctor with the underserved. I also began to see how culture impacts health and health care.
  • My gap year highly impacted my decision to join the Peace Corps. I am currently an English teacher volunteer in the Philippines. I also hope to be an international journalist or travel writer after my service.
  • I’ve always wanted to study psychology, but after my gap year I really realized how much more involved I want to be in other countries. I’m not sure which career I will have in the future, but it will definitely have to be something that involves traveling.
  • As yet, I cannot tell for certain.  I know that I want to be a writer, and part of my confidence in that interest likely stems from the confidence which I gained through my time abroad and during my gap year in general.
  • I realized that although I loved teaching, social work was a better fit for me.

Did you change the way you view or relate to people from different cultures or countries as a result of your international gap year experiences?

  • I had previously thought about this kind of international travel as a situation in which I was going somewhere else to “help,” but I realized I was so much the lucky one to be there, and that all these people shared their homes and communities with me. I feel like I learned so much, and received so much more from the experience than I could possibly have given. It was a really humbling experience, and I’m so grateful to all of my hosts for opening up their homes to me.
  • The extended homestay in Costa Rica and my experiences in Ecuador earlier in my gap year truly helped me to immerse myself in the culture and experience it and interact with people in these countries in a much more genuine way than I would otherwise have achieved in my lifetime or through standard travel. As well, it really helped me to better understand their perspective of both their country and the United States, and helped me to better understand the true role that the U.S. has played in Latin America.
  • It changed the way I felt about volunteering in developing countries and changed the way I understood “need.”

Do you have any last thoughts to share about the impact or outcome of your gap year?

  • It was an awakening. I am thankful every day that I took a gap year.  I was ready for college; I could have gone straight from high school and I would have done just fine.  But my life has been so enriched by the experience, and so many doors are opened everywhere I go simply by the change in perspective my gap year has given me.  My friends who haven’t taken a gap year look around and see only college, classes, internships, resumes… I look around and see the entire world waiting for me.  Everybody should take a gap year.
  • I’m really glad I took a gap year, not just because I had amazing experiences, but because I feel like it gave me a better perspective going into college, prepared me for living away from home, trying new things I might not be comfortable with, and learning from every experience no matter how successful the outcome.
  • I am so happy with my decision to take a gap year. When I graduated high school I was burnt out, and didn’t have the grades to get into my college of choice. Even if I had gotten into that college, if I had gone right away, I believe my value of education would still have been low and I would have gotten bad grades. Instead I was so excited to start college a year later, and had so much more motivation to study hard and truly valued my education. I believe that more students should participate in a gap year!


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