Gap Year Opportunities

By Kim Glick on February 09, 2011

 

gap year opportunities gap year options gap year volunteering volunteer abroadHave you ever fantasized about getting away from it all? Most recently given the state of the economy many people are carefully considering transitioning into new careers and making moves to get motivated again. Taking a time-out might be the ticket--literally. These days we can call our time-outs "gap years" and we can even put them on our résumé particularly when they have purpose beyond an extended holiday. There are many kinds of gap years but here we are highlighting two kinds. The first and most well known are for students just out of high school or college who are not sure what they want to do next with their lives. The second are for mid-career professionals who need a change and a fresh perspective. Gap years can be a healthy and structured way to "find your purpose", think about them like the 21st century LSD for the soul without the illegality.

One program for recent high school graduates is the US organization, Magic Carpet Rides, whose motivated facilitators, Laura Wheelock and Markus Nagel, work tirelessly to find stimulating volunteer activities for gifted students who have a lot of energy and constructively need to channel it. I met Laura and Markus in Guatemala where we worked together to place their students in volunteer activities. The changes are dramatic and every one of the students leaves with self-esteem, language skills, and a wealth of magical experiences. The program costs almost as much as a year in a public university but includes everything from the plane tickets to all of the expenses overseas. Sometimes there is financial aid available for students so please ask should you decide to apply. Since the groups are small, maximum 12 people, with one facilitator for every four students, everyone gets the attention and guidance they deserve. Being away from family for an extended period is sometimes just what one needs to choose a major and take it seriously. 

One of my favorite comments about the Magic Carpet Rides' experience is this one from an 18-year old woman volunteering in Guatemala:  

"Working with the marine park has opened my eyes to a whole world that I was previously unaware of.  I am interested in public health and medicine, so learning about the quality of water in which people swim and eat seafood was very interesting.  I enjoyed seeing how millions of sea animals' lives are negatively affected when water quality is altered as a result of human influence.  I am so grateful to have this opportunity to be an informed individual that can make smarter decisions in how I choose to live." 

It is hard to beat that for self-awareness, maturity, and impact.

Another option for those of us a little older but no worse for wear is are some of the volunteer organizations that give mid-career professionals the opportunity to test the waters in a new field or add some field experience to their résumés. One organization that has a lot going on is the Scottish organization, Challenges Worldwide, with project opportunities on four continents. Volunteers pay for their airfare and in-country accommodations. They receive the work contact information and some in-country support.  Assignments are targeted professional, short-term volunteer posts from one to six months. According to Challenges Worldwide spokespeople, the organization links professionals with overseas organizations who need their particular skills.  

If you are wondering if taking a gap year will make a difference as far as your performance, either in school or on the job, take heart that Princeton University takes this seriously.  In 2009, Princeton initiated a pilot program sending 20 selected undergraduate accepted applicants on a one-year international service trip. Students went to four different countries and the university picked up the tab. Princeton calls their program a "bridge year", to bridge high school with college, but the principle is the same:  to explore new aspects of oneself and to ease the transition from one stage and activity in life to another. If the university did not believe there was something to be gained from this as far as how students perform in their studies, they would never have sponsored the program. Structured gap year programs are not cheap but they certainly offer unique experiences one will never find in the classroom. 

Everyone gets that burned out feeling once in awhile when you know your performance is suffering but you are not sure how to fix it. That is just your body and mind telling you to take a break to find a new challenge. If you can swing it, a gap year might be just what you need to get things on track, find greater purpose in your studies or career and in your life in general. The organizations mentioned here are not the only ones offering these kinds of services. It is suggested you do your homework for any gap year programs, particularly overseas ones. Check references and make sure you are as informed as possible particularly regarding the level of in-country support you will receive and any financial obligations you may incur.  

Some programs you might want to consider:

For students:

Magic Carpet Rides:  http://www.magiccarpetrides.org/

World Learning:  http://www.worldlearning.org/

Where There Be Dragons:  http://www.wheretherebedragons.com/

For mid-career professionals:

Challenges Worldwide:  http://www.challengesworldwide.com/

Gap year resources:

Information and lists of possible projects and opportunities: http://www.kareeve.com

http://www.idealist.org

Please note that the information provided here is just that: Information.  These are not endorsements of any particular program or website.  Good luck and have fun!


By Kim Glick| February 09, 2011
Categories:  Restore

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Kim Glick

Kim Glick

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