The idea of taking a gap year between the last year of high school and the first year of college, long a tradition for students in places like the UK, is slowly gaining traction in the United States. Proponents of gap years encourage the practice as it allows students who have been working non-stop throughout high school to take a break from the stresses of school and avoid academic burnout, and it’s a great way to gain outside-the-classroom experience that you might not have the time for once you’ve started college.
With support for the idea growing in this country, more and more options for what to do with your gap year are becoming available – many students travel, volunteer, work, or a combination of the three. While structured gap year programs abound, some students decide to take matters into their own hands and look for volunteer or work opportunities abroad. While that offers more flexibility and independence, it’s important to do your research on any opportunities and make sure you have all the documents or visas you need. Here, we’ve compiled some gap year options that have us considering taking a year off ourselves….
Semester at Sea Gap Year – Semester at Sea has long been a popular option among college students taking a semester abroad, but you can also hop on one of their voyages while you’re taking a gap year and earn some credits before you start at college. You live and take classes on the ship, and every few days you wake up at a new port in a new country where you get to explore or do “field labs” where you expand upon what you’re learning in your classes.
Thinking Beyond Borders: Their Global Gap Year program takes you from South America to Asia to Africa while you learn about development and immerse yourself in each culture by staying with families there. If you’re not ready to commit to a whole year traveling, there are “gap semester” programs in South America or South Asia as well.
EF Gap Year Abroad: Unlike some of the other gap year programs that take you on a tour of sorts around the world, EF allows you to pick one country to stay in so that you can improve your language skills. They offer programs in France, Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, China, and Japan.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) – This organization helps match volunteers with hosts in countries around the world (practically every country is represented here) who need an extra set of hands on their organic farms. As a volunteer, you get full accommodation with your host in exchange for helping out for several hours a day on the farm. According to their website, most volunteers spend about one to two weeks on a farm, which means you could spend a few months working on different farms and seeing different parts of a country (or continent!). To begin, sign up for WWOOF membership in the country you’d like to travel to and start perusing the job postings.
AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps: If community service is your main goal for your gap year, this program is one of your best bets. For ten months, NCCC members (all of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24) work in small teams and volunteer with organizations across the country. AmeriCorps provides housing and meals and a living allowance for the duration of the program.
Global Citizen Year: This program bills itself as a “bridge year” rather than a gap year – the idea is that their program promotes an extension of your learning rather than a break from it. If you’re admitted to the program, you start your journey in at the Global Citizen Year headquarters in Oakland for training, then head off to your destination in either Brazil, Senegal or Ecuador for an 8-month homestay and apprenticeship with a local community organization.
InterExchange: Whether you want to work or volunteer abroad, InterExchange has you covered. They offer programs to work as an Au Pair in Europe or Asia as well as opportunities to work in English-speaking countries like Australia or New Zealand, and volunteer opportunities in Africa, Asia, and South America. Browse their website to see which opportunity suits you best.