A gap year (also known as year out, year off, deferred year, bridging year, overseas experience, working holiday, time off, and time out) is a term that refers to a prolonged period between life stages. It is often, but not always, a year.
Gap years can be done here in the United States through programs such as AmeriCorps, Teach For America, City Year, and so on or they can be done abroad through various programs abroad such as Peace Corps, the J.E.T. Programme, teaching English in Thailand, or working as an Au Pair in France. Some people spend time traveling. Others spend their time working, and many combine these into an international working holiday. Another popular option for gap year participants, also known as "gappers", is international volunteering. Also, many gappers earn money while overseas by working cash in hand, often in the hospitality industry. Another growing trend for gappers is to enroll in global education programs that combine language study, home stays, cultural immersion, community service, and independent study. Gap year experiences can vary in length and can be structured or unstructured depending on the person's purpose, priorities, and budget.
From life-changing volunteer projects spanning the globe to paid jobs abroad, gap years are all about gaining life experience. Gap years are an ideal opportunity to reflect on future career paths and academic choices, experience a different culture, meet new people and see new places!
Most 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 parents' support and guidance in planning your gap year experience. Some parents are very supportive and may have even participated in similar programs themselves. However, some parents 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 with parents about your plan.
- Get them 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 they have a say in your plans.
- 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.
Internship and Career Services
ICS has professionals that can help you plan and research your gap year experience. Make an appointment early in your search process by stopping by the office in Atherton Union 315, calling (317) 940-9383, or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have a small library of gap year resources that might be helpful in getting you started on the road to a terrific experience. Below is a list of books you may check out from ICS:
Griffith, S. (2012). Teaching abroad: your expert guide to teaching English around the world (11th ed.). Richmond, UK: Crimson Publishing
Griffith, S. (2012). Work your way around the world: the globetrotter's bible (15th ed.). Richmond, UK: Crimson Publishing.
Griffith, S. (2012). Your gap year: the most comprehensive guide to an exciting and fulfilling gap year (7th ed.). Richmond, UK: Crimson Publishing Limited
Landes, M. (2005).The back door guide to short-term job adventures. Berkley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Lihosit, L. (2012).Peace Corps experience: write and publish your memoir. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Incorporated.
Lonely Planet. (2011). The big trip (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications.
Penrith, D. (2007). The directory of jobs and careers abroad (13th ed.). Richmond, UK: Vacation Work Publications.
Verge Magazine offers informative and insightful articles. They also have adventure travel, study abroad, travel abroad, volunteer abroad and work abroad program lists. GoOverseas.com, Twin Work & Volunteer, and United Planet are other great resources for finding programs and reading reviews.
Check with the U.S. Department of State for tips, restrictions, warnings, and documents required for international travel.
The Quick Guides below were written by Jean-Marc Hachey. He is the publisher and founder of MyWorldAbroad, known formerly as The BIG Guide to Working and Living Overseas.
In addition to the above websites, Go Discover Abroad is another resource which aims to provide exciting and meaningful gap year opportunities to students and backpackers keen on exploring the world differently. They currently have programs and tours in 40+ countries across the world, with more than 200 programs. Their catalog includes everything from voluntours, internships, language learning courses, adventure tours, safaris, treks and more.
Affordable Colleges Online has great information also.