Seven Gap Year Adventures that Beat Lying on a Beach
- Student Tips
Earlier this month, the Obama's announced that their eldest daughter, Malia, will not be heading to Harvard, or any other university in the fall. Instead, the first daughter will take a 'Gap Year' before matriculating in Fall 2017. For most British and Australian students, for whom gap years are standard procedure, this news may have been a bit of a non-issue, but for some Americans, the announcement introduced the concept of gap years.
Here's a quick FYI for the uninitiated. In the UK and Australia, as well as other countries, it's not unusual for students to take a year before beginning university studies to work, volunteer, travel, or retake exams. In most cases, students apply to a university and then defer their acceptance until the following year. In the US, the practice isn't as well-known, but it's growing in popularity and will likely become more so after the Obama's announcement. Gap years give students a chance to explore and gain some perspective on their future, and most students report that their activities during their year out helped prepare them for their studies. But deciding what to do between secondary school and university can be disconcerting. Luckily, we have some exciting ideas that will help you make the most of your gap year and gain some valuable experience in the process.
1. Party and work
All work and no play makes for a dull gap year but don't just waste your year out dancing at clubs or lounging on the beach. A gap year is meant to help students figure out their academic path and professional future and as much as we'd love it, there are not a lot of lucrative, long-term career options that involve lying on a striped towel or decking yourself in glowsticks. That doesn't mean partying is out of the question – just make sure to combine it with experiences that you can put on your CV. Look for positions in party promotions, practice your DJing skills, or join the staff of a festival circuit. Beaches, resorts, hotels, restaurants, and clubs always need staff and during your time off you'll have the inside scoop on all the excitement. The key to a successful gap year? Have your fun and build your CV too!
If you want to gain experience doing something meaningful, then volunteering during your gap year is the right choice. Your options are endless – teach English in Nepal, dig wells in Tanzania, work with elephants in Thailand, or find a project closer to home. Volunteering is a great CV-builder regardless of the sector, but if you really want to maximize the potential of your gap year find a volunteer opportunity in a field or area that plays to your strengths and career goals. Future marine biologists and zoologists can look for projects in marine conservation or animal sanctuaries. Pre-med students will find short-term experiences throughout the world. And high-school needn't be the end of your sports career. Athletically inclined students can coach, teach, and train in countries like Ghana, Brazil, and South Africa.
3. Blogging and freelancing
One of the biggest concerns for gap-year students is the expense, but traveling doesn't have to be expensive and if you're clever about it your travels could, well, pay for your travels. Before you leave, establish a blog, website, or photo account. Look for freelance travel-writing gigs with online newspapers, magazines, or student newsletters and write about your adventures. Blogging is a great way to document your travels and, if you play your cards right, your stories could bring in enough revenue to keep you on the road after your savings run out. Plus, a blog or freelance job can be the key to future writing and publishing opportunities, and who knows? Your year of writing about travel could be the beginning of a career.
4. Online jobs
Speaking of financing your travels, smart gap-year nomads know that a go-to source of income is always a good thing and working online is a handy way to travel and earn money at the same time. Nowadays you have to go pretty far off the beaten track to disconnect completely from the internet and an online job writing, coding, editing, or even teaching requires little more than a wifi-connection and a laptop. Tap into your skills and log some hours next time you're chilling in a street cafe or waiting in an airport terminal.
5. Be an au pair
Do you want to experience a new culture but aren't sure that a year of hostel bunks is your cup of tea? Are you energetic, creative, and responsible? Do you like working with children? Considering a career in child development or education? If you answered yes to any of these questions then a year spent as an au pair could be your gap-year adventure. Au pairing comes with a lot of perks. Most positions include room and board (often in relatively luxurious accommodations), as well as a small stipend for expenses. In many countries, au pair visas are easy to come by and au pairs have access to language courses. And, depending on the family, you might end up traveling (in style) to even more exotic locations. Look for legit au pair websites like iapa.org and aupairworld.com that pair young people with families based on profiles and check that your prospective employers are complying with au pair regulations in their country.
What in the world is 'wwoofing'? WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a project that links organic farms and producers with enthusiastic travelers who want to learn more about the organic lifestyle. Wwoofing is a volunteer activity with a twist – wwoofers live and work on organic farms around the world in exchange for labor. Travelers get a chance to learn about and experience organic farming while helping small businesses thrive and grow. Wwoof experiences typically last for just a few weeks, but you can find opportunities around the world and in a variety of farming sectors. According to Wwoof.net, many Wwoofers go on to start their own organic businesses so a gap-year spent on an organic farm could be the perfect choice for the budding entrepreneur or agriculture student.
7. Find an internship
Last but certainly not least, a year out from university studies can always be spent in an internship. It's a practical option, of course, but it doesn't have to be boring or grueling. If you haven't settled on a major or course, look for internships in areas that interest you and aim for hands-on opportunities as opposed to office drudgery. Malia Obama is reported to have interned for HBO and the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C. For your gap year internship, look outside the box...and country and aim for a dynamic position in a field that sparks your imagination or builds on your strengths. For students interested in healthcare, Gap Medics offers an assortment of medical internships providing attendees with hands-on experience.
Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA.