A gap year (also known as
year out, year off, deferred year, bridging year, overseas
experience, working holiday, time off, and time out) is a term that
refers to a prolonged period between life stages. It is often, but
not always, a year.
Gap years can be done here in the United States through programs
such as AmeriCorps, Teach For America, City Year, and so on or they
can be done abroad through various programs abroad such as Peace
Corps, the J.E.T. Programme, teaching English in Thailand, or
working as an Au Pair in France. Some people spend time
traveling. Others spend their time working, and many combine these
into an international working holiday. Another popular option for
gap year participants, also known as "gappers", is international
volunteering. Also, many gappers earn money while overseas by
working cash in hand, often in the hospitality industry. Another
growing trend for gappers is to enroll in global education programs
that combine language study, home stays, cultural immersion,
community service, and independent study. Gap year
experiences can vary in length and can be structured or
unstructured depending on the person's purpose, priorities, and
From life-changing volunteer projects spanning the globe to paid
jobs abroad, gap years are all about gaining life experience. Gap
years are an ideal opportunity to reflect on future career paths
and academic choices, experience a different culture, meet new
people and see new places!
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Most students interested in doing a gap year experience after
graduating from college start the preparation at least one year in
advance. This will help you be fully ready to leave soon after
graduation and for what lies ahead. Below are some tips to plan
your gap year experience.
The first step in deciding whether taking time off is for you is
self-assessment. Identify your goals and motivation for completing
a gap year experience.
Draw up a list of:
- What social causes are most important to you
- Places you would like to travel
- Sites you would like to see
- Skills you would like to sharpen
- Challenges you would like to overcome
- Volunteer work you would like to do
- Educational experiences you would like to explore
- Work experiences in which you would like to participate
A large part of planning for and organizing your gap year will
depend upon your budget. Before settling on any particular trip or
itinerary, consider the money you have available to fund:
- Air travel
- Ground travel, including trains, buses and private taxis
- Clothes and specialized equipment for your journey
- Accommodations or rent
- Specialized work or voluntary program costs
- Travel and medical insurance
- Admission to tours and sites
- Internet access and telephone calls
Finding the Right Program
When you know what you would like to get out of your gap year
and have an idea of the funds at your disposal, begin to research
the opportunities available. Also, if you prefer an organized gap
year, as opposed to a less formal experience, look for
organizations that provide structured gap year programs. Here are
some helpful tips for finding the right program for you:
- List everything you wish to achieve and experience in the time
- Set yourself some goals, but be realistic - don't try to cover
too many countries if you don't have much time.
- Spending more time on a few activities or in fewer countries
generally provides greater satisfaction.
- Find out which organizations and companies offer activities
that support your personal and/or professional goals.
- Research the organizations online that you are considering and
check the results and reviews carefully.
- Ensure your prospective gap year organizations have legitimate
websites and contact information.
- If you are able, go to your chosen destination and shop around
to see what legitimate organizations are available.
- Ask the organizations you are considering for names and email
addresses of their former volunteers so that you may contact them
- Try to avoid paying your entire program fee prior to arrival if
you have any major concerns.
- Ensure that you have the finances to cover flights, clothing
and equipment, insurance, vaccinations, visas and spending
- Set aside a contingency fund for emergencies. Check to see if
your organization offers financial support.
- Find out if your organization will contact you when you return
to the U.S. to offer you further support in re-adjusting to life
Getting Your Parents On Board
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It is wise to get your parents' support and guidance in planning
your gap year experience. Some parents are very supportive and may
have even participated in similar programs themselves. However,
some parents may be apprehensive about the idea of taking time off
after graduation, especially if you are going far away from
Below are some tips for persuading and talking with parents
about your plan.
- Get them involved early in the planning and preparation of your
experience. Show them the resources you have collected, let them
conduct some of the online research and ask them for advice and
ideas. They will feel better knowing they have a say in your
- Show them you are responsible before talking with them by doing
thorough research about the destinations you intend to visit or the
experience in which you hope to participate.
- If they don't have Internet access at home, persuade them to
get it. Email may be the best way to keep in contact with them
while you are away.
- Set a plan for keeping in touch. Try not to be too specific
because there may be times when you cannot make contact and you
don't want them to worry unnecessarily.
- Show them you are responsible by checking into necessary
insurance and have adequate medical coverage.
- Make sure they are keenly aware of where you will be and for
how long. The more you show them you have your "stuff" together,
the more likely they are to support it!
- Discuss issues of safety early. Show them you have done your
homework by proving to them you will be safe while away. Take a
first aid course. It could save your life or someone else's and it
will show your parents that you are taking this seriously.
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Internship and Career Services
ICS has professionals that can help you plan and research your
gap year experience. Make an appointment early in your search
process by stopping by the office in Atherton Union 315, calling
(317) 940-9383, or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have
a small library of gap year resources that might be helpful in
getting you started on the road to a terrific experience. Below is
a list of books you may check out from ICS:
Griffith, S. (2012). Teaching abroad: your expert guide to
teaching English around the world (11th ed.). Richmond,
UK: Crimson Publishing
Griffith, S. (2012). Work your way around the world: the
globetrotter's bible (15th ed.). Richmond, UK: Crimson
Griffith, S. (2012). Your gap year: the most comprehensive guide
to an exciting and fulfilling gap year (7th ed.).
Richmond, UK: Crimson Publishing Limited
Landes, M. (2005).The back door guide to short-term job
adventures. Berkley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Lihosit, L. (2012).Peace Corps experience: write and publish
your memoir. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Incorporated.
Lonely Planet. (2011). The big trip (2nd ed.).
Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications.
Penrith, D. (2007). The directory of jobs and careers abroad
(13th ed.). Richmond, UK: Vacation Work
offers informative and insightful articles. They also have
adventure travel, study abroad, travel abroad, volunteer abroad and
work abroad program lists. GoOverseas.com and Twin Work & Volunteer is
another resource for finding programs and reading reviews.
Check with the US
Department of State for tips, restrictions, warnings, and
documents required for international travel.
The Quick Guides below were written by Jean-Marc Hachey,
publisher of The Big
Guide to Living and Working Overseas.