What position do you hold at Kivu? What inspired you to join them?
Luke: I am the co-founder and director of Kivu Gap Year. I am also the men’s director at our summer camp facilities. I joined Kivu in 2001 as a summer internship during my undergraduate studies at Miami of Ohio University. I was hired on to the leadership team in 2002 and continued working seasonally at Camp Kivu until a full time position was offered to me in 2009. Kivu means “big” and as a staff team, we dream big. I was asked to develop our gap year program from the ground up and then travel the entire first year on the ground to assess overall program effectiveness. Today, we are seeing great strides in our dedication to develop Kivu Gap Year to become the premier global training program for the next generation of young leaders.
Did you take a gap year? If so, where and what inspired you to go? If not, where would you have gone knowing what you do now about gap years?
Luke: I never took a gap year. However, I grew up in a family who placed a heavy emphasis on travel and self-discovery. By the time I was 25, I had visited eight countries spanning four continents. I found tremendous personal growth in cross-cultural immersion experiences. By this time, I had also led nearly 200 American teenagers into new countries and cultures. Here I saw the students come to life in service-learning opportunities and realized there was fertile soil for a positive cultural exchange between American students and host countries. When people ask me about my favorite destination, I typically say, Rwanda and the Philippines have a special place in my heart.
What is your favorite story of a Kivu program participant's experience?
Luke: Every student has a unique experience I find refreshing and inspiring to me. One story I love to tell is when one of our students was in the Philippines. A few young Filipino girls came up to our student and said, “You have beautiful skin. My skin is not beautiful because it is dark.” To which our gap year student responded, “You're skin is beautiful because you were made that way.” It was a beautiful picture to me of the dynamic cultural exchange that happens when long held values and beliefs collide. The resulting consequence is a re-evaluation of what we believe is beautiful in ourselves and in others. Our hope is for every Kivu Gap Year student to see the beauty and also the pain both inside their own hearts and in other cultures.
What trends do you foresee in gap year travel over the next decade?
Luke: In the next 10 years, we will find a gap year to be far more acceptable in American culture. However, I believe the advances in education technology are going to enable students to take their studies beyond the college campus to our global neighborhood. My dream would be for students to have no necessity for a ‘gap year’ in the traditional sense. I would love for them to experience their freshman year of college as a “freshman gap year abroad.” A gap year is so much more than just a year off. It is a year of global and experiential education. In many ways, it is the “hands on” expression of what liberal arts is supposed to be—subjects and skills a free person must learn in order to bring value to civic life. We re-frame this educational value in a global context.
What should every student considering taking a gap year know?
Luke: I tell students and parents a gap year is not for everyone. You should not participate if you are running away from something back home. Your troubles and former pains will follow your travels. They are the baggage we carry on our journey. We must deal with those issues and face them head on. But a gap year can be a place where you find healing, freedom, and self-realization of your passions and future. Our program develops the emotional, physical, and spiritual side of the student. A gap year will be nothing short of a formative and transformational year for you. You are making an investment on the front end that will reap a lifetime in reward. It will require trust, courage, and commitment the entire journey! But we grow when we live outside our comfort zone.