Skip to main content


18 Oct, 2018   |   

An Original Gap Year

The idea of the “gap year” has been around since the 1960’s. Originating as a time for young people to travel independently, it has grown to serve different purposes over the years. Certainly, travel remains a large aspect of a gap year, but many people also work to incorporate ways to give back, as well as to learn and grow personally. Since 1965 Up with People has been providing all of those elements and more, as one of the original gap year programs.

Gap years have several roots; ranging from backpacking individuals staying in hostels, to government sponsored service in far-flung locales. Many participants joined for the opportunity to see the world before finishing school and joining the workforce. While the popularity of such experiences varies around the world, it has been growing steadily for decades. With that increased participation, comes the increased awareness and recognition of the benefits of a gap year by schools, employers, and families. Most gap year travelers report higher levels of self confidence, maturity and ability to self-reflect.

Up with People began in 1965 as a spontaneous call to action from young people who wanted to make a difference: rather than shouting ‘down with this or that’ they decided to stand up for the idea that young people can make a positive difference in the world. There were no official plans or strategy, but there was an overabundance of hope and energy. When Up with People began as a group to share their message of international understanding, some of the hallmarks of the program were built out of need. There was no funding for hotel stays, so students were placed with host families in every town they visited. The international language of music was used to inspire and motivate people to provoke positive change in their communities. Getting involved through local service projects became not only a way to give back and make a difference, but also served to promote Up with People’s mission and visit to each community through word of mouth advertising. These initial elements of social action that were needed and successful in the 60’s have remained in the program today and offer significant opportunities for growth, learning and compassion.

What began as an open ended experience eventually transitioned into a year, and eventually semester options were offered to better fit the needs of participants who were taking a semester off of school. Several partnerships with colleges have been fostered to recognize and enhance the experiential learning that students do “on the road.” Up with People’s educational focus has very deep roots. In the 1960’s, faculty members traveled with the group to teach high school and college courses. Now, specially trained staff members travel with each cast to focus on a curriculum of social and cultural understanding and exchange. Up with People’s skill building goes deeper too, as localized learning opportunities are offered in various communities, and internship placements with the staff provide tangible and marketable job skills. Those who travel have the chance to lead and learn with a group of lifelong friends.

Up with People has more than 50 years of experience in guiding students through an original gap year experience with challenge and support. The current program has been enhanced to offer the best of the learning and independence of a traditional gap year, and added leadership, group dynamics, as well as personal growth opportunities.

A thousand miles, somebody said,

Start when we take a single step.

A thousand reasons to begin,

To move ahead.


It’s where you’re goin’ and where you been

Cuz the beginnings never end.

Another road, another chance

To move ahead… take a step.

Oh… a single step”


A Single Step© Up with People


No Comments yet!

Your Email address will not be published.