Did you take a gap year? If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Julia: I have taken a few gap years! I was admitted to Hamilton College as a Jan admit, so I spent my first semester of college in London taking classes. That opportunity really stoked my wanderlust. After graduating, I volunteered in Tanzania for nine months focusing on health education in a rural village.
Most recently, my husband and I took a ten-month trip around the world that took us to thirteen different countries! I was driven to all these experiences by a desire to challenge myself and see the world. Some people shy away from the unfamiliar, but I love the feeling of discovering a new place and meeting new people.
What does the future hold for EnRoute Consulting - any exciting new programs to share?
Julia: EnRoute is always growing and evolving! My main limitation is time – not ideas! I am very excited by the Changemakers Program we offer. This service is perfect for a person who has a field of study in mind but wants some real-world experience. It allows a student to focus on one theme for their gap year and explore it in-depth through custom volunteering and internship placements.
They are also assigned a mentor who is an expert in their field of interest. For example, if a student knew they were interested in marine conservation, they could spend their year volunteering in British Columbia at a whale research center then intern at a conservation organization in Belize. Their mentor – a scientist with a PhD in marine ecology – would guide them through their experiences and discuss the career options in their field.
Another exciting service we offer is adult gap year advising. So many parents come up to me and say, “I want to take a gap year too!” And why shouldn’t they? There are so many amazing enrichment courses and volunteer opportunities that are perfect for someone mid or post career. We want everyone to have adventures!
How does your organization differ from other ones in the industry?
Julia: Well, there are a lot of educational consultants out there, but very few that focus only on gap years. EnRoute specializes in travel, volunteering, interning and enrichment opportunities. The services are customized to the individual student to help them formulate their ideal gap year plan.
EnRoute was originally formed to help people find meaningful volunteer opportunities and that is still at the heart of our company. I vet every single volunteer program we work with to make sure they are benefiting the host community as well as the volunteer. Volunteering has become a bit of an industry but there are still so many worthwhile projects out there doing amazing work. I want to send students to the projects where they will have the most positive impact possible.
What is one thing you would tell any gap year participant?
Julia: Be an ambassador. Almost every gap year student travels at some point during their year – and many out of the country. This is both an amazing opportunity and big responsibility that we don’t always realize. Treat the places you visit and the people you meet with respect. Your actions and interactions speak not only for yourself but also to all Americans (believe it or not!).
Traveling makes you realize the impact America has on the rest of the world – both the good and the bad. If you help a community or have a nice conversation with a stranger, that goes a long way in cultivating a positive image of Americans. Why does this matter? The ripple effect of a positive image is far-reaching: it makes travel safer, improves trade and reminds us all that we are not so different from one another. Leaving locals with a positive impression by being friendly and culturally sensitive is micro-diplomacy in action!
How do you think gap year abroad will change over the next 10 years?
Julia: It is my sincere hope that in ten years taking a gap year will be the norm. Not that every student will take one, but that it will be as normal as going straight to college. The gap year is really gaining momentum so I can definitely see that happening.
I think in coming years we will see new programs offering specific skills learning opportunities for gap year students. For example, an engineering-focused gap year with hands-on training as well as a service-learning component. I would love to see the government run a dedicated gap year program so students can volunteer domestically or internationally while receiving an educational stipend they can use toward college.