A great way to see the world and reflect on your own faith, humility, and morality is to take part in a religious gap year. Religious gap year programs allow you to help out communities in need and get in touch with your spirituality anywhere around the world.
Through a religious gap year program, you may find yourself volunteering in South America or learning the basic tenets of a new religion in Asia. Aside from making a huge difference in people's lives, you will be spreading religious messages of hope, faith, and kindness.
If you're just starting to consider this option, everything you have to do to prepare for such a program might seem daunting. However, if you break it down into simple steps, planning your religious gap year can be just as rewarding and enlightening as the experience itself.
Where to Go
Depending on your faith, there are many viable destinations for this kind of gap year. These destinations can bring you closer to your beliefs while simultaneously allowing you to see the world.
Ecuador is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in South America and primarily Catholic in faith. Most religious gap year programs in Ecuador involve community outreach, like working with local children and families in church group settings. Some gap year programs in the country seek to make a bigger difference by providing simple or routine health services to locals in need.
Another primarily Catholic country with some of the warmest people in the Central America is Guatemala. In Guatemala, you can work with a local ministry to support children in orphanages or local schools, or provide services to the homeless. These programs emphasize social reach and training, so you can also be immersed in the culture while you do your mission work.
For a religious gap year that affords you the possibility of helping those affected by war and violence, you can work in Uganda. During your gap year, you can help with refugee resettlement and providing training and support to local teachers in schools. Taking a religious gap year in Uganda also places you in the center of one of the most beautiful untouched landscapes on earth. You'll be able to get in touch with nature while you help local people.
Volunteerism is one of the central tenets of the Islamic faith, and Morocco is a culturally rich place to practice or learn about this faith while you lend a helping hand to the community. Imagine being able to experience Ramadan in Morocco by working in local villages and working with impoverished children. If you are an educator, you can make use of your skills by teaching in community schools.
Southeast Asia is a great place to immerse yourself in eastern religions like Buddhism. A religious gap year in Thailand can give you the opportunity to volunteer at Buddhist temples around the country, for example. Most temples provide education for monks as well as the local community, so you can educate others while also learning about traditional Buddhist teachings.
For a chance to explore the Hindu religion, you can volunteer in various cities in Nepal. As a religious volunteer, you could prepare and distribute food and keep temples in good condition. Doing a gap year in Nepal could also give you the opportunity to enrich the local community by taking part in clean drinking water and health initiatives, for example.
There's no better way to explore your Jewish heritage than to do a religious gap year in Israel. There are a variety of programs that offer academic-based and community-based work in cities like Tel Aviv. Whether your gap year focuses on social action or cultural immersion, you will have an unforgettable experience. Many programs also offer Hebrew immersion so you can study the language during your gap year.
Planning Your Trip
As with any move overseas, planning for a religious gap year takes a lot of time and research. But with a little effort, you can make your dreams come true.
General Tips for a Religious Gap Year
You'll get the most out of a religious gap year overseas if you sign up for a program that you feel passionate about. A religious gap year is an opportunity to immerse yourself in your faith and help spread those teachings. It could mean fulfilling a lifelong passion or learning about religion you're curious about, but it should be something for which you have a deep commitment.
Since many of these programs are focused on helping the community, you may want to consider where your skills will be most useful. If you have a background in education, you might make the most impact volunteering at schools or as a tutor through your church. If you have a medical background, you could make a big difference working for a clinic or undertaking a community health initiative. Programs vary in their scope and responsibilities, so you can pick and choose what suits you best.
There are various costs associated with doing a religious gap year overseas. Some agencies have a base cost for gap year programs ranging from several hundred to thousands of dollars. This often includes housing, meals, and on-the-ground orientation. If you search for a particular church or program on your own, you might be able to find gap year programs that provide free lodging in exchange for your services.
At the very least, you can expect to have to cover airfare and visa costs on your own. So planning to do a gap year involves budgeting to see what you can afford.
The visa requirements will generally vary by country. Since religious gap year programs are typically volunteer-based, you'll need a visa for volunteers. However, if you're working with a group that pays for your mission work, you must apply for the appropriate working visa.
Though many agencies or religious organizations provide visa support, remember that the responsibility of obtaining a visa in a timely manner is yours. You will need your visa before entering the country where you plan to do your religious gap year.
Some programs may include housing, which would considerably lessen the cost of your gap year. This would be especially beneficial if you're staying at a temple or church, where you can truly live according to the religious tenets. However, if housing is not provided, it's your responsibility to find a place to live. Perhaps you could split the cost of housing with other gap year participants.
In some countries, finding the most affordable long-term housing might be easiest when you've arrived. Before you do, you can look for short-term stays through short-term rental websites like Airbnb or HomeAway. Some gappers temporarily use Couchsurfing to save money and connect with locals in their destination city.
Health & Safety
As with any kind of travel or long-term relocation, you have to consider certain aspects of health and safety before you go. Make sure you have all required vaccines to visit the country where you will be doing your gap year. And in the event of disaster or civil unrest, you should plan ahead by obtaining adequate insurance and registering with your embassy in that country.