Pack your beret and your brushes -- it's time to get started on your artistic gap year! A gap year based around arts gives you the chance to immerse yourself in just about any part of the wide world of art, including visual, performance, dance, theater, music, fine arts, and even art history. You can also volunteer or work as a teacher in an arts education program, which will allow you to connect with and learn from local communities in a completely different way.
Whether you're looking to apprentice in a master artisan's pottery studio, can't wait to study traditional Japanese ink painting, or want to teach kids how to direct their own plays, there's a gap year program out there waiting for you.
Where to Go
For classical art immersion, look no further than Italy, the birthplace of some of the western world's most famous artists. Surround yourself with sculpture, ancient landmarks, and centuries of art history in cities like Florence and Rome. If carbs and headless torsos aren't your thing, head to France, where you can learn about world-class design, fashion, and painting, or just wander the halls of the Louvre for a few months.
Traditions and cultures collide in Africa's art world, making it a destination for contemporary and traditional art students alike. In Morocco, you can marvel at classic Islamic art and learn about the diverse influences on the country's artistic traditions, from French and Spanish colonization to cultural exchanges with other Middle Eastern countries. At the other end of the continent, South Africa boasts some of the continent's great museums, as well as 4,000-year-old cave paintings and some of the most ancient art objects ever discovered.
Japan is one of the best places in the world to learn about fine art skills like print-making, ink painting, and, of course, origami. It's also home to some of the world's most innovative modern artists and edgy designers. For another approach to your craft, Southeast Asian nations like Thailand and Cambodia offer plenty of opportunities to experience traditional Buddhist and indigenous art, then apply what you've learned through teaching or volunteering with youth arts programs.
The hub of the ancient Andean civilizations, Peru offers tons of ways to engage with the local art world, including volunteering with arts programs and learning about weaving from indigenous artisans. For an immersive artistic experience, you can't do much better than Mexico. The southern region of Oaxaca is world-famous for its folk art and handcrafts, while Mexico City's nonstop creative energy has inspired generations of artists. Every February, the city hosts Zona Maco, the biggest art fair in Latin America.
Planning Your Trip
Depending on how long you plan to stay in a single country during your gap year, you may need to apply for a visa. Most countries allow foreign passport holders to stay for between 90-180 days on a tourist visa, but require visas for longer stays. A few countries (like Brazil, India, and Vietnam) won't grant visas on arrival, so you have to have one before you land. Make sure to check the requirements of all the countries you plan to visit in case you need to apply for any visas before you leave, and remember not to overstay your welcome, because getting deported could really put a damper on your gap year plans.
Accommodation options and prices will vary by country. If you're going through a program provider, the organization may have its own housing arrangements or help you find accommodations. Unless you're headed somewhere really remote, you should be able to find a range of low-cost or mid-range housing, from hostels to Airbnb to Couchsurfing.
Housing will likely make up a big part of your gap year expenses, so it's helpful to have some idea of how long you plan on staying in a certain location (although plans can obviously change). A month of rent in France could easily pay for three months in Thailand, so don't forget to factor cost of living into your budget.
Health & Safety
As with any other type of travel, it's smart to check that all your immunizations are up to date before you travel. If you take any medication regularly, make sure you have enough to get you through your travels. Even if you're sure you'll be able to get the same medication abroad, bring a copy of your prescription in case you're asked to show it, since medical regulations and laws vary between countries. Investing in travel insurance may seem like an extra expense, but it can potentially save you a lot of money (and stress) in the long run.
Gap Year Arts Programs
Wondering which gap year program might be the right fit for you?
InterExchange Foundation Christianson Fellowship
The InterExchange Foundation Christianson Fellowship awards up to $10,000 to young Americans who are passionate about helping communities abroad thrive and are eager to learn about the local culture. Fellows identify a project or an organization working on an issue they care about, and with the support of the Christianson Fellowship, contribute their skills and passion to that endeavor for at least six months on-location abroad. This intercultural experience is a meaningful way to help others, improve skills, and gain insight about another culture.
High Mountain Institute Award
If you’re looking at one of the four High Mountain Institute programs to Patagonia, consider applying for financial aid. Your application must include tax forms from the last two years and will be awarded based on SSS (school and student services calculator) used by National Association of Independent Schools, which HMI is apart of. In addition to tuition and other travel costs, High Mountain Institute also provides discounted gear rentals to financial aid recipients.
EF Gap Year Awards
EF Gap Year has awards of up to $5,000 for students in their gap year and semester-long programs. Various scholarships are available for leadership, blogging, videography, and photography. Over $50,000 of funding is available every year.