Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to go after one of the best educational opportunities around today – the Gap Year. Gap Years, especially between high school and university, have been increasing in popularity across the globe for a very good reason – they give you the chance to get a better sense of who you are and what you want to do before completing your formal education. As a matter of fact, many of the world’s top universities are promoting Gap Years as an important piece of a young adult’s educational experience, and some are even offering scholarships!
Stepping out of the traditional classroom environment to expand your global knowledge, broaden your perspective, reflect on your personal values and goals, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone, is critical for success in today’s 21st century world. Gap Year programs create an experiential environment for you to test yourself and improve skills in the areas of interpersonal communications, adaptability, empathy, understanding the needs of others, world affairs, and more. The list goes on and on because the opportunities are limitless!
To get the most out of your Gap Year journey, it’s important to be deliberate about what you want to achieve and prepare in advance. Here are some of the top ways to take it all in!
DON’T JUST GO ON VACATION
While you may be visiting some exotic places, and you certainly want to drink in all the cultural experiences you can, remember you are there to learn and grow. Take advantage of the area attractions, historical sites, and local people to learn about the culture, this history, and the significance of the region. This will help you learn to build empathy and be flexible in understanding the needs of others, a top skill that employers seek worldwide.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
You will be exposed to many things that are foreign to you, whether its food, language, or cultural traditions. Don’t rule out any chance to experience new things, even if they intimidate you at first. Try food you’d never order off a menu at home, learn new phrases in the language of every country you visit, attend a class that teaches a local art form, or go off the beaten track to see more than the traditional tourist sites. Most people you meet are excited to share their customs with others and they will help you adapt.
Be present where you are. One of the downfalls of today’s social media environment is that it is overly easy to stay connected to your world back home. We take less note of our own reality when we are constantly monitoring someone else’s. Make a commitment to go “device-free” for a certain amount of time every day (with the exception of your camera, of course) so that you are able to drink in all that is happening around you in the moment.
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
You never know when you’ll meet someone that could be an important contact in the future. Be diligent about meeting people from all walks of life, and take down their contact information. Learn about their lives, their jobs, and how they got there. Better yet, if you develop strong relationships with people in important positions, you may walk away from your Gap Year with some pretty awesome (and unique) references!
Most Gap Year programs include some level of service learning. This is your chance to get down and dirty, and learn how to understand the varying needs of different cultures, peoples and regions. Take the time to get to know the root cause of the issue you are addressing and how your service can make a difference now and well into the future. Embrace the people you are helping, appreciate your ability to give, and give fully.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
Take time to stop and make note of the things you are learning throughout your gap year. Record specific instances where you effectively stepped up as a leader to make a difference, the number of hours of service you donated, or how your actions positively changed the lives of others. This data will be helpful for college applications or for your resume. This is how you will clearly set yourself apart in the world!
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Your Gap Year is a great launching point for becoming a life-long learner. Hopefully your experience will open your eyes as to how the ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge will enrich your life exponentially. You will discover how to continually learn from the world, whether you are abroad or at home. Ultimately, this is the key to living life to the fullest.