Why take a gap year?
Taking intentional time away from everyday living is an invaluable opportunity for developing your personal values and vision for the future. It is a chance for you to question everything anew, to re-learn the value of risk, patience, and open-mindedness, and to trust in chance as a vehicle for learning. It is the undertaking of a personal journey, the depth and distance of which is determined by much more than the miles under your feet. It is more than traveling to a place, taking on a volunteer position, or training in a new job; it is a commitment to your personal development as you let those places and roles become a part of you. It is a chance to slow down, reassess your goals, and make intentional steps towards your vision, your ambition, and your self-education.
Why travel on a gap year?
The diversity of the landscape of the world is too vast to put on paper, in a photo album, on instagram, or even to witness in a lifetime. There are infinite stones to overturn, mountains to scale, cities to explore, and people to meet. Having committed to deliberate time “away” from the norm of life, you may choose to take your journey abroad. Reignite your sense of adventure, let your artistic eye wander, and tickle your taste buds with the subjectively absurd. Within the context of deliberate personal exploration, travel overseas provides the perfectly imperfect arena in which to embark on your journey.
A Fresh Perspective
One opportunity of deliberate time in a foreign country is to practice intentional living, because even the most basic customs and routines are brought from the norm to question. For instance, in your travels you may ask yourself: how do I pay for the bus? Where is the toilet paper? How do I say thank-you? How should I cross the street? or any other facet of our daily lives back home that is brought from a place of automation to be readdressed. Not to mention all the new sights, sounds, and smells! Suddenly there is the remarkable in the everyday. The open air markets on the Spice Isle of Zanzibar, mutters in Quechua from the streets of Cusco or Creole from a Caribbean curb. The smell of the Adriatic from an island-bound ferry. Like a baby just born, in the density of your experience you are forced to confront your environment with wide eyes, open ears, and reaching fingers to take each new instance in, to listen, and to learn as your perspective grows.
As you undergo this process, you may see it as a newfound opportunity to confront your own goals, fears, tendencies, and greatest dreams. You may ask yourself big questions like Who am I? and What do I want to make in this world? as you acquire and incorporate new skills in an ongoing, self-directed process. You may see a boldness within yourself you thought you never had when you stand on the edge of an Australian cliff with a bungee-jumping harness around your legs. You may gauge and cultivate your improvisational skills when you grapple for a spontaneous English lesson for a group of teenagers in India, or try to make a Halloween costume with the materials in your backpack in London. You may discover the fashion designer within yourself on the streets of Milan or your musicianship in a beachy drum circle in Argentina. What are you capable of? Never has it been easier to find out the answer.
You Are Who You Meet
Perhaps the most powerful upshot of this experience is the widening the circle of your empathy. You will find your compassion deeper than ever as you learn to put yourself in the shoes of people whose lives may have been previously unimaginable. In a new place, with so many questions, and relatively few answers, you may also find yourself more dependent on those whom you meet. This is not a strike to your independence but rather a growth opportunity and a chance to learn to ask for help. As you ask and receive help from others (or, as if often happens, receive without asking), the set of individuals, even the types of individuals, with whom you empathize will expand. The world might seem more connected as you create a web that will grow both in size and strength, each connection bringing you a deeper understanding of the world and your place in its community.
To learn to empathize cross-culturally can be a very humbling experience. You may find yourself in tears after a conversation with a Sandinista survivor in Nicaragua or an elderly woman on the streets of Dhulikhel, Nepal. You may even feel wrong has been done to you, such as being given an unfair price at a market or judged based on your appearance, but the lesson is far greater than a simple interaction. If you let yourself be humbled by the experience, there is immense opportunity to widen your moral universe, or observe how others go about. As you witness other ways of living, you will not only be informed better of your own choices, but you may also be struck with creative ideas on how we all could live better.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]We do not need to understand other people and their customs fully to interact with them and learn in the process; it is making the effort to interact without knowing all the rules, improvising certain situations, that allows us to grow.[/quote]
- Mary Catherine Bateson, Peripheral Visions
Examining the prospect of taking a gap year may feel like gazing out at the horizon from a wooden plank over the sea. In many senses, making the decision really is akin to walking the plank, because it involves risk-taking and an openness to the consequences of letting yourself go. However, be assured that you have a big safety net below you! Today, there are thousands of ways to go about your gap year, and hundreds of programs, internships, and resources to help you do so safely. These resources will also challenge you to process your discoveries and all those big questions that are bound to pop up along the way.
So what are you waiting for? Today, travel begins at the fingertips. Here’s a list of resources to spark your inspiration and help with the nitty-gritty details as you start making plans.
- Verge Magazine: http://www.vergemagazine.com/
- Boots ‘N’ All: http://www.bootsnall.com/
- World Hum: http://www.worldhum.com/
- Fathom Away: http://fathomaway.com/
- Global Yodel: http://www.globalyodel.com/
Planning Your Trip:
- U.S. Dept. of State Traveler’s Checklist: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/go/checklist.html
- Overseas Digest: http://overseasdigest.com/
- How To See the World: http://artoftravel.com
- Rick Steve’s Travel Tips: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips
- STA Travel: http://statravel.com
- Work Away: http://workaway.com
- American Gap Association: http://americangap.org
- MyGapYear: http://www.mygapyear.ca/
- GoOverseas: http://www.gooverseas.com/gap-year
- Interim Programs: http://www.interimprograms.com/
- En Route Consulting: http://www.enroutegapyear.com/