Life can be an incredible adventure, especially when we take the time to create our own opportunities. Gap years are a great option for any student or professional needing a change of pace-- whether you’re fresh out of high school, college, or somewhere along your professional career path.

Essentially, this type of exploration involves spending a year in a new place, usually abroad, participating in experiential learning with the intention of discovering more about yourself while developing new skills or helping others.

Photo Credit: Julien Lavallee.

Maybe the most overwhelming, and yet the most exciting, part of deciding to take a gap year is considering what exactly you should do. If you're going to take the adventurous step to travel for a year, you want to make sure it's the right decision for you and that you'll get as much out of it as you can.

Luckily, many of these programs offer tons of guidance before you make a decision. They also incorporate ways to practice real life skills like learning a language, leadership, teaching, while giving you the opportunity to try out lots of different kinds of programs, like what you see below. The wide variety can potentially help you decide what you want to study in college, what kind of career you want to enter, or just give you the chance to try lots of different things!

Adventure

What would life be without a little bit of adventure? Many of the programs listed on Go Overseas involve high intensity, adrenaline inducing fun, like bungee jumping, white water rafting, sky diving, and rock climbing. Still more offer components with hiking, surfing, sailing, scuba diving, mountain climbing... and the list goes on! If you love being outdoors and taking risks, you'll have no problem finding a program to suit your needs.

Volunteer

You can do volunteer work, such as working at an orphanage or helping to build homes in areas that have been torn apart by natural disasters. You can even help out with rainforest conservation in Peru or get your PADI Coral Reef Research Diver qualification while assisting with marine conservation in Seychelles. There are so many options to volunteer, so start your research at Go Overseas to find what program best fits you.

Study

You can choose to take some courses abroad without confining yourself to being a full-time student; maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to cook, so you decide to take a culinary class in France while travelling in your free time. Language schools are also an excellent study option; for example, try learning Arabic at a university in Abu Dhabi or taking some classes in Afrikaans while studying in Cape Town. You'll also learn plenty of culture and history just be being in the country.

Work

You can also decide to fund your travels by working abroad-- whether it be as a waitress, bartender, temporary employee, or a farmhand. You can be a WWOOFer (a participant in the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), where your room and board are provided in exchange for help on a farm or vineyard. If you have a love of children, Au Pairing as a nanny is a popular choice. Yet another option is to teach English, which is actually a very marketable skill. Many of the teaching and au pairing programs like to hire participants for at least a year, which would be another great reason to choose a gap year over a shorter amount of time.

Gap Year Timing

Something else that should be taken into consideration is the timing of your gap year adventure. It’s common practice in the U.K. and Australia to take time off after high school to travel, something that allows you to have a variety of experiences before settling down at college and picking a major.

In the U.S, it’s a bit more common to take a gap year after completing college--hoping for an adventure before settling into rigorous grad programs or a full time job. Many hope to make this move at a point in their life when they aren’t tied down by future family/career/studies.

However, it doesn’t matter what point you are in your life-- if you decide a gap year is right for you, it’s never too late to take some time to explore the world and test your limits!

Where to Start Your Gap Year Program Search

The options are endless. So where to start? Go Overseas provides multiple guides for those interested in specific programs or those hoping to do more research. A general Google search will often give great results and lead to blogs with some interesting insights and personal narratives; these can give you a great idea of what it’s like to live abroad.

The Take-Away

And what’s the point of going through all this trouble? What do you take away from a gap year? You’ll absolutely gain independence and confidence in yourself and your abilities to travel and live on your own. You’ll have an increased awareness of the world around you and how other people live in different countries. You may even gain a new perspective on what happiness means to you, and how you work to achieve it in your everyday life.

Future employers will love to hear about your experiences and the new skills you’ve gained. You’ll also hopefully have some new friends and have forged many meaningful relationships, based all around the world (a.k.a., excuses to travel and visit new places later on!).

So what do you have to lose? There is no rush to figure out your life’s purpose, so take some time to explore this magical world we live in, at a time when traveling has never been easier or more within your reach.

Why Take a Gap Year?

Say you’re in a situation where you aren’t quite sure how you want the next few years of your life to unfold. You’re graduating, not ready to take a “real job” or go to grad school. Or maybe you have a very clear picture of your life, but want a bit of adventure before you get too settled. You may even be taking a break from a job you already have.

Gap years provide an excellent way to figure out what you may want out of life before you make a decision based on outside pressures or internal confusion, or to simply take time for yourself to reorient your interests and goals. For many, it’s a year of personal growth and exploration-- a chance to gain independence and valuable work skills along the way. Making the decision to take a gap year shows courage and maturity, and serves as an investment for your future.

Benefits of a Yearlong Gap Program

One important point to consider is why it might be more beneficial to take a gap year over choosing a program with a shorter duration, like a semester abroad or a summer internship. It goes without saying that the longer you spend abroad, the more time you have to explore different places, meet different people, and learn about yourself.

Programs like the ones listed below give you the opportunity to take an alternate educational route while still providing a structured itinerary. You'll visit one country, or multiple, and participate in a wide variety of travel-oriented learning experiences.

Contributed by Lauren Fritz

Programs

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