Tips for Taking a Gap Year

Posted September 14, 2011 by

As tuition costs rise and the economy remains stagnant, an increasing number of American students are spending a “gap year,” the year between high school and college, traveling and volunteering in order to gain real-world experience. Projects Abroad, an international leader in volunteer travel, offers hundreds of projects in 26 countries, and encourages students to remain safe, happy and helpful during their gap year. Vice President of Projects Abroad, Thomas Pastorius, Jr. compiled a list of tips to ensure participants make the most out of their year abroad.

“Our main priority is the safety of our volunteers, which always begins with preparing them for volunteer travel,” said Thomas Pastorius, Jr., vice president of Projects Abroad. “A gap year is an incredible, life-changing experience, but it is also a serious commitment. We want to make sure our volunteers are as prepared as possible before embarking on their adventures.”

Tips for Gap Year Travel

For students planning to take a gap year, knowing what to expect is highly important. Pastorius’ tips for preparing to take a gap year include:

1.    Research. Research is key in deciding where to go, what activities to choose, and how much time should be spent in each destination. For volunteer projects, students should consider their personal interests and preferences, and consult with program advisors to help make decisions.

2.    Make sure to plan ahead. Students should map out their activities before embarking upon a gap year. For those looking to travel after a placement, reservations should be made in advance so return flights won’t need to be changed.

3.    Expect the unexpected. Medical and travel insurance are necessities when taking a gap year, in case something unexpected should happen.

4.    Be culturally sensitive. “Culture shock” can be a reality for many international volunteers, and it can take time to become adjusted to a new environment. Before embarking on a gap year, volunteers should familiarize themselves with common cultural customs and be prepared for values that may differ from what they are used to.

5.    Update all documentation. Passports should be valid for at least six months after a volunteer’s return date, with ample space for passport stamps. With some exceptions, visas must be purchased in advance. Travelers should check visa requirements with the consulates of all countries that will be visited.

6.    Record memories. Travelers should bring a camera and a journal to help record the incredible journey. If Internet access is available, many gap year students maintain a blog to keep their families updated on their activities.

7.    Rely on the experience of others.  Every individual’s experience will be different, but it can help to read first-hand accounts from other volunteers. Connecting with former volunteers through Facebook and Twitter can be useful as well.

Students interested in participating in a gap year program can do so through Projects Abroad. Projects Abroad’s “Global Gap” program, an innovative 27-week volunteer program that will launch for a second year in October 2011, is designed for recent high school graduates taking a year off before college. It consists of a one-week orientation in Ghana, followed by one- to- two month programs in South Africa, Peru, India and Thailand, as well as a holiday break in the United States. Each program allows volunteers to become involved in service projects that lend insight into important global issues such as housing, education, environmental conservation and human rights.

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