Are you the type that seeks adventure and enjoys an occasional outdoor hike? Or are you the type that loves exploring a new city and the occasional road trip? A gap year in North America has something to offer everyone.
From exploring the wilderness of Canada, to learning Spanish in Mexico, or taking on an internship in New York City, there are so many opportunities to take advantage of.
The variety of opportunities makes North America an ideal location for a gap year. It has the potential to offer you some of the most enjoyable, memorable, and life-changing experiences.
There are few continents that compare to North America’s ethnic and cultural diversity. The landscape is equally diverse from the Grand Canyon to the islands of the Bahamas. North America is a land of dreamers and innovators offering every kind of experience imaginable. Turn your gap year into the American dream and let the adventures last you a lifetime!
Not only is North America one of the largest continents but it also has a climate to suit everyone’s needs; whether it’s the USA, Canada, Mexico or the tropical Caribbean islands. You could work as a camp counsellor in the USA, spend time on the slopes in Canada, volunteer in Mexico or you could learn to dive in the Caribbean.
If you love to work with children and would like to live, work and travel the United States, then being an au pair is perfect for you. With this, you’re able to live with an American host family, look after their children and be treated as a member of their family.
Typically, your placement with your host family will last for six months to a year. Do note, however, that though this is a fantastic opportunity to fully immerse yourself in American culture, gain international work experience, and learn English (if you’re not a native English speaker), you’ll lack some of the freedoms you’re used to at home as an au pair.
Make sure you talk with your host family in advance and set realistic expectations of what your free time will look like. Point being, if you’re an au pair in NYC, don’t expect to be bringing your friends home from the club at 2am.
If you dream of living on an island, swimming in the ocean all day or just giving back to the community then volunteering in the could be the thing for you. There are plenty of opportunities to work with marine conservations, sea turtle conservations and contracting services. Explore the coral reefs, monitor marine movements, complete underwater marine surveys and let the underwater world become your new home!
If you have no prior background in these activities, it is good to look for a program that will offer you some training in this field. This is for the adventurers who want to take their exploration to the water and dive into a whole new world. What better way to spend your gap year than on a beach or lending a helping hand where needed?
Do you want a working gap year that is fun, rewarding and an overall life experience? Working as a camp counselor is one of the most beneficial things you can do during your gap year. You could work as a lifeguard, arts and crafts teacher, general counselors, drama teacher and even a sports coach.
Not only will you be making lifelong friends with your co-workers, but you will also be contributing to the lives of the camp goers. You could potentially get time off to spend traveling to the places you’d like to see most. America is an extremely diverse country, culturally and geographically, and offers different travel experiences that are suitable for everyone.
The Americas are an adventure lover’s paradise and spending your gap year at as a camp counselor in any location will be most rewarding. The skills you learn while working as a counselor will look great on a CV or resume and employees will instantly see that you are a committed, mature and responsible person.
There is a high demand for English speaking teachers in Mexico at all times throughout the year. Typically, there are openings in language schools, universities and international schools. Speaking English is a requirement for Mexican citizens wishing to advance in the professional field. If you so chose to spend your gap year teaching English in Mexico, know that it is constantly in high demand.
Ski Instructor / Lodge Employee
California, Colorado, Utah and New England are among the four major ski areas in the U.S. Canada also offers world class resorts in British Columbia and the Rockies. North America staffs its resorts each year so that it is able to deliver top service in some of the top facilities.
These jobs are year round but are often most popular in the winter time. Ski lodge jobs can vary from ski instructors, lodge employees, and to nannies at the daycare center of the lodge.There is even the possibility of working in the hospitality department at the lodge doing jobs such as food preparation, administration, and covering service. If you think you have what it takes, ski lodge jobs can be exciting and fun!
Prepare for a harsh winter! Canada is the polar bear capital of the world, so heavy winter clothing is an absolute necessity. Despite the cold, you'll find that Canada is a unique and beautiful country. Gappers will have the chance to visit Niagra Falls or observe Beluga whales. The streets are clean and medical care is easily accessed. Taking a gap year in Canada will immerse you in a warm, safe culture.
It's difficult to summarize a country as diverse as the United States. From weather to culture, no two states are alike. Your time here will entirely depend on which area you visit- whether you are doing an internship in New York or visiting Yosemite National Forest; there is something for absolutely everyone in the United States.
One of the top tourist destinations in the world, Mexico is bursting with culture and opportunity. Escape from life's daily pressures -- in Mexico you can dive off the coast and in caves, hike up a volcano, go surfing, kayak off waterfalls, try rock climbing, go deep-sea fishing, snorkel with the diverse marine life, mountain bike, bird watch, and more.
Gappers may find the Caribbean islands a little more challenging because of the distance between islands, but you shouldn't be deterred. Whether you stay on one place or island hop, you are sure to find mixed cultures, spirited music, spicy foods. You will also find meaningful work on the islands, ranging from Medical Volunteering to Wildlife Conservation.
Planning Your Trip
Health & Safety
Staying healthy during your gap year is more important than anything else. Those beaches that you visit and the adventures you go on won’t be great if you are cooped up in bed feeling sick. Getting into a good, healthy habit will be the best thing you can do for yourself.
If you are sleeping outside, be sure and put up a mosquito net, don’t eat certain foods that you are wary of and make sure to get a good night’s sleep which will help you prepare for the next day. If you do happen, however, to start feeling ill, the hospitals in North America are world class and over the counter drugs are sold at local convenient stores. Make sure that if you need to get an vaccinations or immunizations you do so before you leave that way you are well prepared when you go to your destination.
Culture & Etiquette
North America is home to many cultures and is full of multi-ethnic traditions and racially diverse neighborhoods as a result of immigration. When you begin interacting with Americans, it is proper to make eye-contact, be polite and give a firm handshake. The customs vary greatly from state to state similar to the prices for certain products.
For example, in New York you would shake hands with the person you met but perhaps in Alabama or Louisiana their custom is to hug one another. You will see the differences in cultures as you travel from state to state and you will become more familiar with them as your gap year progresses.
The main type of visa for students looking to work in the U.S. is the J-1 visa, which will allow you to work and travel. However, there are two types of J-1 visas and the first is the “Work and Travel” visa which allows you to temporarily work in a “guest service position” such as the tourist industry. The other is known as the “Camp Counselor” visa which allows you to work at a summer camp.
The cost of living in North America varies from country to country. Housing, products, and lifestyle costs are all different. For example, an decent meal in New York, New York can cost up to $30, whereas a meal in Mexico will run you a few dollars.
Before creating a budget for your gap year in North America, create a rough itinerary of where you want to go. For example, if you're planning to spend the majority of your time in Mexico, you'll need to save far less than if you're trying to do an unpaid internship in New York.
Also consider money you might make while working (if that's how you plan on spending your gap year) when deciding how much you should save before heading out on your gap year. If you plan to work, you should absolutely still have money in the bank, but you might be OK with a little less than if you were traveling full time.
Once you have an itinerary planned out, we recommend taking a look at Lonely Planet's sample budgets for each region you plan on spending time in to get a better idea of how much money you'll be spending in each.
To cut on costs, consider spending longer amounts of time in one place, camping, exploring areas by bus (rather than flying) and cooking / eating at less expensive establishments whenever possible. Honestly, rural regions of the U.S. -- many of which have some fantastic national parks to explore -- have a downright reasonable cost of living.
Contributed by Kalee Fambrough
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Gap Year Programs in North America
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