Share your Gap Year stories and pictures with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jpg files should include your name and where photo was taken. We will use them here and on Facebook. Check the site regularly, because we have many more letters to share.
In 2004, I went to Mozambique, South Africa and Denmark and spent eight months traveling and volunteering in a teacher-training college. After that, in 2005, I spent eleven months volunteering and traveling in El Estor, Guatemala. These were the best two years of my life! Before deciding to travel, I was a free spirit, jumping from job to job with no cares or thought for the future. I had graduated from high school in 1997, tried college three times and never made it through a semester. My parents were concerned that I wouldn’t ever go back to college, ever find my “place” in society. Of course, when I told them I was joining a program to travel, they were even more concerned. But I went anyway, with their hesitant blessing.
I had always been interested in music. I took nine years of piano lessons as a kid, and it seemed that no matter what I did, musical opportunities presented themselves to me. Because I was incredibly uncomfortable singing in front of people, I resisted it and ultimately decided that during my volunteering, I was going to let no one know that I had any musical capacities. It didn’t work. They found out soon enough, and I ended up teaching pre-school music curriculum to the teachers in Mozambique. Along with that, I led the choir and sang at the weekly Saturday evening programs!
When I came back to the states, I finally realized that deep down music was what I was meant to work with in this world. When I returned, I gave presentations about my experiences abroad in a musical format to high schools, churches and boys and girls clubs in Philadelphia and Indiana, where I’m from. Initially, it was hard to know what to do next, after such an incredible experience abroad. My whole mindset had changed and it was difficult to talk with any depth to any one besides the people who were with me through the experience. I remember sitting alone, waiting for the bus, lost in my thoughts. I saw that the local university’s graduation was taking place. As I watched the happy graduates and proud parents, I thought to myself, ‘I can do that.’
So, in 2006, I went back to school for music, initially starting in classical music at the University of Louisville and eventually transferring to Temple University to study jazz. I am a jazz vocalist with regular gigs in the Princeton and Philadelphia area. I am so proud to say that I am now in my last year, and will be graduating in December! I plan to be a high school music teacher. I am so excited!
I have no doubt that it was because of my experiences abroad that I was able to come back and complete an academic program. Traveling is about meeting new people and having new experiences, some euphoric, some difficult. It is not an easy thing to do, but it builds character like no other experience I can think of. It’s incredible what one can do afterward. I was truly able to realize that I could do anything I wanted. For the first time, I cared about my future and wanted to make an impact on the world. Now I’m excited to use music as a medium to work with the youth of this country.
I encourage any person who is considering a travel experience to just DO IT! It will undoubtedly change your life for the better! Even though Rita Golden Gelman does a fantastic job illustrating her travel experiences in her book, Tales of a Female Nomad, I’m sure she will agree with me that words can’t even come close to expressing just what it’s like to be a traveler in the world. This is totally different from a vacation and as long as you are open to new experiences, lifestyles and people that are different from your own, an incredible experience is waiting for you! So Let’s Get Global!
If I were asked what I am most proud of to date, it would be having the courage to take a year off of school to travel. In the face of warnings of never coming back, I left for a trip to Costa Rica at 18, the fall after graduating High School. Having to battle my university to allow me to take time off, saving up funds for the trip, and getting the courage to get on the plane, the experience I had was one I will never be able to walk away from.
With three months in Costa Rica I attended Spanish school, lived with a host family, volunteered at an orphanage, volunteered with Green Sea Turtle protection on the Pacific coast, and even had a few weeks to explore Panama. This is the essence of my year off: so much to talk about I don’t even know where to start.
Much of the fear of taking a year off is the worry that you won’t want to go back to school, but this was never my case. Having already been accepted to UC San Diego, I had something new and exciting to look forward to on my return. And what surprised me the most was that the desire to continue my education only increased with all the travelers I met along the way. Such a diverse array of studies, passions, and surprising careers filled me with wild dreams of where my life could go. I gained inspiration and drive to make a global difference with every new village I visited. In addition, I gained the confidence that I could actually accomplish these goals.
After my time in Central America I returned to the States to work for a few months to save up for my next trip, and by February I was off to Denmark. Working at an Equestrian stable for three months in the heart of winter was a shock coming from Costa Rica, but just proved another obstacle to conquer. The trip to Europe ended with a few months backpacking around jumping from rail line to rail line.
By the end of the year my confident return to the states had me excited for the first day of school, where finding classes seemed minor. My resume is now thick with examples of adapting to new environments and my travels set me apart from fellow students. I am so thankful to have had the support from family and friends for my trips. My experiences have helped me in unexpected ways for classes, with friends, and for entering the job market. Taking a gap year has been one of the best experiences of my life.
I found that spending a gap year overseas opened my eyes to the different cultures, and ways of thinking and doing things this world has to offer. I gained independence, language skills, initiative, self-confidence, maturity and direction. Not only that, but on my return I found it was much easier to find work having obtained the above skills that are highly sort after in the workplace.
After taking this gap year and engaging in work experience overseas, I moved into a business degree that I love and am passionate about. The result has been either distinctions or high distinctions in every subject I have studied and a rewarding career that I feel passionate about. Indeed, many of the others who took this same gap year went on to complete their degrees with outstanding results and ended up working overseas in jobs they enjoy.
Taking a gap year is something definitely worth considering and doing some research on. A dramatic change in attitude is needed if we are going to engage our youth and boost participation. Read more information about Get Zouing.
If you have made your way to the “Let’s Get Global” website you are at least considering taking a gap year abroad. I myself was 18 years old the first time I left the United States. The moment I stepped off the plane in Barcelona, Spain to visit my brother, my life changed. Traveling the world alters your idea of the world and your place in it. When you meet people from diverse cultures, you realize there are far more similarities than differences.
Since my initial trip to Spain, seven years ago, I have been fortunate to have had opportunities to travel to nearly fifteen countries throughout Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and the South Pacific. My most recent international experience was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga. I learned more about myself and life during my world travels than I ever could in a classroom, and I encourage you to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity for personal and professional growth gap year offers you. That year after high school is the perfect time too. Before you get into the college-job world.
I’m not saying it will be easy. Figuring out which program you want and how to earn the money to pay for it will take work. There is help from the funding world as well, and that too has to be researched. Let’s Get Global is gathering information to help you. We’re just getting started, so keep checking in. And please let us know what you find, and we’ll keep you posted on our research.
Before I go, I do want to say that living in another culture has its challenges. You’ll be meeting new people, experiencing new situations, customs and religions. There will be times when you won’t know how to act or what to say. But you will be amazed as you discover strengths within yourself that you never knew you had. You will return confident, proud of yourself, and ready to take on whatever challenges college and the job world present.
When I was 16 years old I had the opportunity to travel to Soweto, South Africa for the Children’s Earth Summit held in conjunction with the World Summit on Sustainable Development to represent a youth program for which I was a volunteer. This trip opened my eyes to how big, complicated and fragile our world is. After experiencing severe anti-Americanism in South Africa, I realized how crucial it was for people to move beyond stereotypes and see one another as human beings rather than only representing particular nations or creeds. If we were to create a better future, we first needed to learn how to work with and relate to one another.
After graduating high school, I deferred my university admission for one year to create a program that could connect schools in learning-partnerships globally and also empower students to take collaborative action for the good of their local communities.
I remember pacing around the street near my house right before I decided to defer from university. I was so nervous: what if I failed? How could I at 18 start something like this?
What I learned that summer is that sometimes an idea is enough if it is: (1) unique and (2) coupled with relentless determination and passion.
I took a gap-year to start what has become One World Youth Project. In 2004 to 2005 I fundraised to visit the first sister-schools involved in the program in South Africa, Morocco, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Mongolia and Mexico as well as throughout the United States. My experiences in these schools changed my life and career direction.
Five years later I have graduated from Georgetown University and One World Youth Project is an international non-profit having served 67 schools in 26 countries and 12 USA states. It is our belief that recognizing one’s existence in a global community of shared challenges at a young age helps better equip our youth as the global citizens we are all becoming in the 21st century. Read more about the One World Youth Project.
Being a Kiwi we realize the benefit of travel, and it is almost a rite of passage for many of us. Living in the USA for one year of my university life and asking people “Have you travelled?” and getting responses such as, “Oh yes, I have been to Colorado and Utah.”, and hearing so many people say they didn’t have time or money, and it would look bad on their CV to say they had been on holiday for a year, made me a little sad. So please, please encourage it, Americans need to know about the rest of the world! There are so many who don’t know where NZ is and so many with very American-centric worldviews.
Whether you want to teach in China like I did, or just want to travel to other parts of the world and get a feel for other cultures, DO IT! There will be no greater experience or education than actually living what you would otherwise only read about or see in a movie.
Teaching kids ages 11-13 for three weeks in China was easily one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. They were so eager to learn and so genuine in their desire to know everything they could about me and the English language that it made it very hard to leave them at the end of the program. I still can’t explain how or why, but I can honestly say that I fell in love with my 47 students.