There are endless reasons that you should take a gap year abroad instead of going directly to college. When you participate in a program like Global Citizen Year, you gain an indescribable amount of experience, perspective, and connection that you just wouldn’t get in almost any other environment. Over this past year, I’ve become fluent in another language, I’ve become a better person in every way, and I’ve made friends from across the globe who I never would’ve met had I not taken this incredible opportunity.
So, why aren’t more students taking gap years? There are several reasons. For one, there’s an established “track” set up for students. You go directly from high school to college, and then you go directly from college to the full-time workforce. No one says doing something else is wrong, per sé, it’s just not what you’re really expected to do, or “supposed” to do. Another reason is that, for almost any student in their senior year of high school, all of their friends are either going to college or just working after they graduate. As a result, you have this unsaid, subconscious peer pressure to stay on that track because it’s what everyone you know is doing. It’s why I almost decided not to take a gap year. The final reason is that gap years abroad just aren’t really that well-known. Maybe you’ve heard of something like Outward Bound, but most high school students never even know that this exists as any opportunity. And it’s something more kids really need to know about.
I want to make it clear that I’m not just advertising for my program, by the way. I’m advertising for this entire idea, this cause, in general. It’s something that more people need to do.
I would absolutely not be the person I am today without taking the opportunity that Global Citizen Year presented. If you knew me in high school, you know that I was not in a good state. I somewhat struggled in school, primarily due to laziness, despite being more than capable of making straight A’s. I was clearly depressed and had no kind of social life. My self-confidence was essentially nonexistent. I had no outstanding skills, I was socially awkward, and I had very little experience or adversity in life. I’m still extremely flawed and imperfect coming out of my year abroad, but I’m very much improved. Mental health and confidence is still a struggle for me, but any one of my friends from this year will tell you that I’ve made incredible strides in those areas. I now have skills and experience that might make a legitimate impression on others; say, even a potential employer. I actually have friends now; friends from over twenty different countries, in fact. I lived through experiences that I had never even thought I could have before. This year definitely wasn’t perfect, but at the same time … it kind of was.
Make no mistake. A gap year is NOT all sunshine and rainbows. I had plenty of struggles. I wasn’t able to connect with my host family for a while because I couldn’t speak the language confidently. I went through some pretty strong emotional turmoil. I spent most of my time at work feeling utterly useless, even though they asked to have me there. As a 6-foot-4 white guy in a country where the average man is 5-foot-4 and relatively dark-skinned, I stood out everywhere I went, and not always in a good way. Nothing in life is just all smiles and perfection, and this year was no exception. But it was all more than worth it.
A global perspective isn’t something people realize they need until they have it. I’m not more “woke” than anybody else, but there’s only so much you can know without having lived experience. Coming from a background where you’ve lived in one society, one culture, one environment, your entire life, it’s difficult to broaden your horizons that much. Simply to live in and experience another culture for an extended period of time is extremely valuable to one’s growth as an individual.
Something you may be thinking is, “why not just study abroad in college?” Well, what are you doing in a collegiate study abroad program? Nine times out of ten, you’re surrounded by your American classmates, living in a hotel or dorms, with limited true exposure to the surrounding culture. When you take a gap year abroad, you generally live with a host family, work in the area, and really experience full cultural immersion. Which one would you pick?
At the end of the day, I can’t make the decision for you. Neither can your parents, nor should they. What you want to do with your life is your decision, and no one else’s. All I can do is introduce you to ideas and try to open up your possibilities. This is definitely a path worth considering, even if it is a road less traveled. If you’re reading this, whether or not you’re a high school student, tell people about this opportunity. Tell your siblings, your friends, your parents’ friends, tell whoever will listen. Gap years are an incredible thing, and the word needs to spread.