Gap Year and Service
Gap year is a term that refers to a prolonged period between life stages. These experiences can vary in length and can be structured or unstructured depending on the person's purpose, priorities, and budget. They are also commonly known as year out, year off, deferred year, bridging year, overseas experience, working holiday, time off, and time outs.
Gap years can be pursued here in the U.S. through programs such as AmeriCorps, Teach For America, and City Year, or they can be completed abroad through programs such as Peace Corps, teaching English in Thailand, or working as an au pair in France.
Some spend time traveling or volunteering internationally. Others work, earning cash in hand in industries like hospitality. Many combine the three into an international, working-and-volunteering holiday.
Another option is to enroll in global education programs that combine language study, home stays, cultural immersion, community service, and independent study.
From life-changing volunteer projects spanning the globe to paid jobs abroad, gap years are about gaining life experience. They're an ideal opportunity to reflect on future career paths and academic choices, experience different cultures, meet new people, and see new places.
Many students interested in doing a gap year experience after graduating from college start the preparation at least one year in advance. This will help you be fully ready to leave soon after graduation and for what lies ahead. Below are some tips to plan your gap year experience.
The first step in deciding whether taking time off is for you is self-assessment. Identify your goals and motivation for completing a gap year experience.
Draw up a list of:
- What social causes are most important to you
- Places you would like to travel
- Sites you would like to see
- Skills you would like to sharpen
- Challenges you would like to overcome
- Volunteer work you would like to do
- Educational experiences you would like to explore
- Work experiences in which you would like to participate
A large part of planning for and organizing your gap year will depend upon your budget. Before settling on any particular trip or itinerary, consider the money you have available to fund:
- Air travel
- Ground travel, including trains, buses and private taxis
- Clothes and specialized equipment for your journey
- Accommodations or rent
- Specialized work or voluntary program costs
- Travel and medical insurance
- Admission to tours and sites
- Internet access and telephone calls
Finding the Right Program
When you know what you would like to get out of your gap year and have an idea of the funds at your disposal, begin to research the opportunities available. Also, if you prefer an organized gap year, as opposed to a less formal experience, look for organizations that provide structured gap year programs. Here are some helpful tips for finding the right program for you:
- List everything you wish to achieve and experience in the time available.
- Set yourself some goals, but be realistic - don't try to cover too many countries if you don't have much time.
- Spending more time on a few activities or in fewer countries generally provides greater satisfaction.
- Find out which organizations and companies offer activities that support your personal and/or professional goals.
- Research the organizations online that you are considering and check the results and reviews carefully.
- Ensure your prospective gap year organizations have legitimate websites and contact information.
- If you are able, go to your chosen destination and shop around to see what legitimate organizations are available.
- Ask the organizations you are considering for names and email addresses of their former volunteers so that you may contact them with questions.
- Try to avoid paying your entire program fee prior to arrival if you have any major concerns.
- Ensure that you have the finances to cover flights, clothing and equipment, insurance, vaccinations, visas and spending money.
- Set aside a contingency fund for emergencies. Check to see if your organization offers financial support.
- Find out if your organization will contact you when you return to the U.S. to offer you further support in re-adjusting to life back home.
It is wise to get your family and friends' support and guidance in planning your gap year experience. Some folks are very supportive and may have even participated in similar programs themselves. However, some may be apprehensive about the idea of taking time off after graduation, especially if you are going far away from home.
Below are some tips for persuading and talking about your plan.
- Get your support system involved early in the planning and preparation of your experience. Show them the resources you have collected, let them conduct some of the online research and ask them for advice and ideas. They will feel better knowing that you value their opinion.
- Show them you are responsible before talking with them by doing thorough research about the destinations you intend to visit or the experience in which you hope to participate.
- If they don't have Internet access at home, persuade them to get it. Email may be the best way to keep in contact with them while you are away.
- Set a plan for keeping in touch. Try not to be too specific because there may be times when you cannot make contact and you don't want them to worry unnecessarily.
- Show them you are responsible by checking into necessary insurance and have adequate medical coverage.
- Make sure they are keenly aware of where you will be and for how long. The more you show them you have your "stuff" together, the more likely they are to support it!
- Discuss issues of safety early. Show them you have done your homework by proving to them you will be safe while away. Take a first aid course. It could save your life or someone else's and it will show your parents that you are taking this seriously.
(All students already have a Handshake account. Just use your Butler username/password to log in. Alumni can click the register link, requesting to join Butler's network.)