FSD Gap Year program is an intense, immersive program for pre-college students (17+) looking to gain international development training and experience. It’s an exciting way to explore and learn before starting college.
Our Gap Year program was specifically designed for high school graduates and allows you to gain hands-on experience prior to beginning your studies at a university level. The Gap Year program has a strong emphasis on community ownership and follows the principles of Asset-Based Community Development. Participants receive extensive training in sustainable development principles and gain professional skills in project planning and budgeting, program evaluation, community assessment, and proposal writing. Participants apply their new and existing skill sets as they collaborate with their local colleagues on identifying, designing, and implementing a project to benefit the community.
All FSD Gap Years begin months before your arrival. FSD site teams work with our partner organizations in the community to help them identify priorities and develop volunteer descriptions. Prospective participants can apply to these specific descriptions after learning about these community development organizations. Once we receive an application, we begin work with our international teams to ensure you are a good match for the program - which includes an interview with our international site team and connecting you to materials that will help you prepare for your travel and internship abroad.
When participants arrive in the field, FSD local site teams will lead an in-country orientation, providing each volunteer with invaluable guidance and insight that will help them throughout their program. Orientation is a blend of theoretical topics such as FSD’s asset-based community development model, community-based research, and day-to-day details such as how to navigate the local transit system, safety, and security. Through the orientation process, volunteers are introduced to the people who will be their support network while they are in-country: FSD staff, their organization supervisors, host organizations, host families, and other FSD volunteers serving in the area.
After orientation, you will develop a project that supports your host organization’s work starting with a workplan developed collaboratively with your colleagues. Some participants create brand new projects, and others contribute to ongoing work, but the overall focus always remains on community involvement, sustainability, and effectiveness.
FSD Gap Year program is a minimum of nine weeks and can last as long as a full year. The more time a participant is able to commit to a project—laying the foundation, doing the work, evaluating results, and adjusting accordingly—the more effective it can be.
WHO CAN PARTICIPATE IN A GAP YEAR?
Gap Year is designed and structured for recent high school graduates at least 17 years of age. A strong emphasis is placed on experiential learning, meaning that Gap Year participants are learning through the implementation of key phases of work in their program. FSD site teams conduct training and reflection sessions to assist participants during their cultural integration and during their project planning and development work. We strive to ensure relationships of reciprocal benefit, meaning that both the community and volunteers benefit from the experience.
WHAT DO GAP YEAR PARTICIPANTS DO?
Gap Year participants co-create a development project with one of more than 200 community development organizations that have partnered with FSD. These organizations have strong links to vulnerable communities and years of experience working in their respective fields. During your time abroad, you have the opportunity to work directly with community members, combining their coursework and experience with the expertise already present within the community. Past Gap Year participants have worked to design sustainable irrigation methods with rural farmers in Kenya, worked to promote gender equity through workshops and campaigns with teen girls in India, supported nutrition and education programs with at-risk children and youth in Argentina, and much more. Your Gap Year will be a unique experience designed by you and your community organization.
LOCATIONS AND FOCUS AREAS
FSD has sites in six countries: Argentina, Bolivia, India, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Uganda. Each location is unique in its culture, history, and sustainable development emphases. Our partners across all our sites are committed to strengthening their local communities, and we support them in accomplishing their unique missions. Our site teams at each site actively build relationships with host families and community partners to facilitate safe, culturally immersive, and developmentally impactful programs.
All FSD program sites work with community development organizations engaged in work impacting education, environmental sustainability, financial inclusion, gender equity, green energy, health, human rights, sustainable livelihoods, and water & sanitation. During the application process, you will be able to read through specific volunteer positions and find matches to your skills and interest area.
GAP YEAR PROGRAM DETAILS
Each FSD site team is comprised of a Program Director and at least one Program Coordinator. FSD’s Program Directors are regional experts in the field of community development, which makes them a great resource for volunteers as they develop and implement their projects. Each Program Director develops and maintains FSD's relationships with the community development organizations and families who will host volunteers and is involved in developing—together with the community development organizations—specific internship opportunities. Program Coordinators provide extra support to FSD's participants, host families, and community organizations. While participants are in the field, Program Coordinators serve as a bridge to the local culture and language; they also function as a lifeline when culture shock inevitably sets in, and are available to advise interns as they develop their work plans.
Staying with a host family links FSD’s program participants to the local culture and community. All of our hosts have a desire to receive international volunteers and help them integrate into their family. Living conditions are generally “middle class” by local standards. While this might be a drastic change from what some are used to, host families are vetted to ensure safe and healthy homes for participants. Past volunteers have consistently noted the host family experience as one of the highlights of their time abroad, and many keep in contact long after their program ends.
FSD works with more than 200 community development organizations across our sites. They are locally-run organizations with strong connections to the community. We call them host organizations because they will host your volunteer experience, but their main focus is to serve their community. Your project will serve that mission. Each participant has a direct supervisor at his/her host organization, responsible for working with the intern to ensure that the project progresses in a way that is effective, appropriate, and engaged with the organization and the local community.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT TRAINING:
Through the Gap Year program, participants gain valuable training in international sustainable development. During orientation, the FSD site team walks participants through our asset-based community development model and discusses what it means in the local context. Then, with their host organization, participants undertake a close study of a particular community issue and potential solutions, including both quantitative and qualitative data collection. Interns conduct project work while immersed in the local community, learning from their host organization and community members. Throughout the course of the program, site teams conduct regular check-ins with the organizations and participants and help troubleshoot any problems that arise.
Proposal writing is a key component of our Gap Year program. In addition to the initial project seed grant, FSD offers a small competitive grant fund for each session for project enhancements. If participants find it relevant to their work, they can submit grant proposals to the FSD headquarters through their local site team, explaining how extra funds would be used to boost the sustainable impact of their project. For participants interested in a career in the nonprofit world, this introduction to proposal writing is particularly useful.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN OUR GAP YEAR AND INTERN ABROAD PROGRAMS:
Our similarly structured Gap Year and Intern Abroad programs differ mainly in the amount of support provided and the expected level of participant initiative. The FSD site team is significantly more involved with Gap Year participants, with more check-ins scheduled throughout the program to make sure they have/develop the skills and confidence needed for their time to be well spent. While we expect strong initiative from our Gap Year interns, their immersion into the community and the project work is simply a bit more gradual.