“I was fresh out of college and floundering to find a job that I felt passionate about,” said Up with People alumni Dave Stockwell on his motivations for taking a gap year. “My world seemed small and I knew there was so much more to see and learn.”
Like Dave, there will be many times throughout your life where you need to make a decision today about what’s best for you tomorrow. It can be scary and at the same time, exhilarating! If we were all armed with a crystal ball, we’d nail it every time! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. So we’re challenged to determine our own answers to life’s many questions. Questions such as: Should I continue my education? Where should I start my career? Is this career path right for me? When do I want to get married or start a family?
These answers come easy for some, while for others, a firm plan isn’t in place quite yet. For those individuals, a gap year – a year that is taken off between life stages – is becoming a much more common choice that makes a lot of sense. And it’s easy to see why!
Although individuals are asking themselves different questions and confronting unique situations, the goals of taking a gap year are often times the same -- to discover yourself and what you are passionate about during this pivotal time in your life. What’s not always clear is the multitude of long-term life benefits a gap year provides!
Experience a different culture
“After my year abroad, I came back a more educated and accepting person,” said alumna Cindy Swanson Cohen. “I have more respect for people different from myself and an appreciation for different cultures, and how people live. It definitely changed my small town thinking.”
Committing to a gap year means leaving your hometown behind for a few months, a semester or even up to a year for the opportunity to learn about and immerse yourself in different cultures. You will not only meet people with different traditions and customs from your own, but will also gain a global perspective. Find out what motivates other cultures. Take the opportunity to learn about their history, food, and government.
“I had never traveled much and was very interested in people and other parts of the world,” said Lynne Lentz. “I had no idea how much I would learn and encounter in that year. I could not really describe all of the emotions I experienced, but it molded me into the person I am today. I have learned diversity and tolerance and brought that into my adult life.”
Develop leadership skills
As defined by Simon Sinek, “The art of leadership is about inspiring people to build something, not threatening to break something.” Being a leader is more than guiding others, it’s about bringing out the best in your team and community.
Leadership skills are so important because they can easily translate to almost every facet of your life. When studying abroad in a gap year program, you will have the chance to step up to the plate and lead your peers. It is a perfect time to challenge yourself, to take on more responsibility, and work with a diverse group of people who may not understand your language and culture well. This allows you to step out of your comfort zone, try something new and have a ton of fun in the process! You may even find that learning these important leadership skills will give your life a new sense of direction and purpose.
“I learned [through my time with UWP] that I could accomplish many things that I would not have thought before and those experiences have given me confidence to use many times later in life.” Said Karina Læssøe.
Figure out what you are passionate about
Traveling abroad and encountering a culture that’s completely different than what you’ve seen before can open doors to new interests and passions. The moments away in a fresh, new place can give you a chance to clear your mind and discover what is important in your life. “I traveled with Up with People right after college because I didn’t really know what to do with a degree that I loved,” said Jessica Gonzalez Uhlig. “UWP introduced me to the student recruitment and admission world. That has become a 15 year career.”
Through interactions with other cultures, you gain a new perspective that can bring clarity to what you want to focus on when you trip is over. “Upon my return, I knew exactly what I was destined to do with my life,” said Crystal Sanderson.
“Thanks to those amazing experiences abroad, I found my vocation in creating cross-cultural understanding,” said Charlotta Öberg. “Up with People gave me the important start and the confidence.”
Learn useful career skills
Hands on work in a foreign country can benefit you personally and provide a boost to your resume and to your career. Whether through community service, internships or performance, you will have no choice but to learn and gain valuable skills that will help you throughout your life and career. Most importantly,you will develop communication skills and the ability to work effectively with individuals from every background. Now that’s a career strenght worth developing!
“My year abroad brought clarity and purpose to my life in a professional sense. A criminal justice career day and a prison tour fascinated me and when I returned home and to school, I selected a Criminal Justice Administration as my major” said alumnus Kelly Brown who has just retired from a 27-year career in the criminal justice field.
Have fun and make lasting friends
“What I took away most from my gap year was meeting and truly connecting with people that one moment ago were strangers,” said Suzanne Dahlerus. This might be the best part about the gap year! People and memories are what make life enjoyable. You will work and play with individuals from all over the world who will teach you life skills, while they learn from you too. Ski the slopes of Austria, explore the rainforests of South America, and run with the bulls in Spain…all incredible moments experienced with a new group of friends.
“We’re still close after 40 years, and knowing they’re out there means a whole lot to me,” said Rita de Wilde.
This is just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many more experiences and benefits to be acquired when taking a gap year abroad. Who knows, it might just be the smartest decision you ever make.