What makes the best gap year program?
The best gap year program is the one that is right for you! Consider what you want from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Consider what countries or cultures interest you. Think about what kind of impact you want to make. Do you want to work with your hands, or help grow a local business abroad? Would you rather learn a new dance, or experience and cook international cuisine? Your study abroad can be whatever you make of it, but there are a few things you should look for in a gap year program.
Volunteering, not voluntourism
Volunteering is a great thing, and an invaluable way to gain experience and empathy for people you serve. However, many gap year programs parade “volunteer while you travel” as their main selling point. This creates a danger when the volunteering becomes tourism, and the participants sometimes do more harm than good with their short term stays. Look for a program where you will become involved in the community and work alongside locals, but preferably as a member of the community. This is the kind of volunteering that makes a real difference to both those working and volunteering, as well as the people or children being served.
Skill building opportunities
When you plan a gap year, take into consideration what opportunities and projects the program is offering. Whether it’s leadership training, teaching skills, construction ability, a language, or even business management, make sure that you are going to be engaged in building yourself while you build those around you. This is a key part of planning an amazing gap year.
You may not expect to see this as an item in a gap year planner, but you should plan a gap year with an organization that will help you build a network. It’s one thing to go and work and travel and do all the positive things you find in a gap year — but to elevate your entire experience you need a great team. This team and network can be composed of fellow participants, locals, and program administrators, but it’s one of the best things you’ll receive from your time abroad.