How to Make a Gap Year Beneficial

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By: Madison White, Uloop

In some countries across Europe, students are encouraged to take a year off before entering university. There are many reasons behind this; some say it will allow them to reenergize when they return to school, others say it’s just a great opportunity to travel the world.

However, should your student decide to take a gap year, how can you ensure that it will be beneficial for their future? Gap years have a large array of benefits, but here are a few to focus on when discussing and planning a gap year.

1. Don’t just visit a culture, experience it

The main perk of a gap year is that your student’s time is far less limited than it would be on a normal academic schedule. Normally, they’d probably have a week up to a month in a place before having to return to normal life.

However, when taking a gap year, they have an extended amount of time to really root themselves somewhere and immerse into the culture. This kind of long-term traveling allows one to get beyond the surface level of visiting somewhere. Instead of just seeing popular sights, they’ll be keener to visit with and understand locals, try new foods, and understand their perspectives better.

If they’re truly successful in rooting themselves in another culture, they’ll be able to see your home country and customs in a different light. Many times, this will help young people understand their own values and privileges better than before. 

2. Be service oriented

A great way to feel fulfilled during a gap year is to come up with a sort of goal. A sense of purpose and place in the world prevents feelings of being unimportant and unmotivated (definitely not what you want after a gap year). Trying a service learning experience for either part or the entire time of the trip will ensure a better sense of purpose.

In fact, if your student is already struggling with what they want to do beforehand, a volunteering based trip may help them discover what’s important to them. Luckily, many organized service trips and programs exist specifically for this reason. So if you’re worried about planning one completely on your own, there are lots of options already out there. Similarly, service programs will likely include young people much like your student to help develop such a purpose.

3. Form real and lasting connections

Moving from the previous section, service learning opportunities are important to meeting people with similar goals. When they share such life-changing experiences with people, it leads to deeper and lasting connections. Because programs and projects like this attract people from all over the globe, it allows them to expand their circle of friends and connections. If they decide that they want to live somewhere else after completing their degree, these global connections can really help in moving to and establishing a life somewhere else.

4. Learn new language skills

Especially in our increasingly global society, the ability to communicate in other languages is a sought after skill by most schools and employers. Perhaps your student already has some experience in learning a language or they’re simply interested in a certain one.

If so, taking a gap year in a country, or multiple countries, that speak that language can be a huge help in developing language skills. In most schools, the problem is that they can’t practice the language in an immersive sense. However, when traveling in a country that speaks that language, you’re forced to read and speak the language on a daily basis. This is an absolutely wonderful opportunity to use the extended amount of time to really initiate and develop those coveted language skills.

5. Hone your interests

In case your student already has a burning passion for something, a gap year is a wonderful chance to really focus on what interests them most. Whether that be working on a nature reserve or working with urban school systems, they can really choose and narrow in on those passions.

If they decide to pursue a similar area during or after university, this could really help them get a leg up on the rest of their peers who have little to no experience. They, however, will have loads! If they’re a little less sure what they’re truly passionate about, a gap year is a great time to explore their options. Your student can take part in a variety of different projects and they’ll likely come across something that really captures their interest. After that, they’ll have even more motivation and inspiration when returning back to school.

When done well, gap years can provide the ultimate jump start to your student’s career and adult life. Planning a gap year is no easy process, but it can result in some of the best times of one’s life. Benefits can be found abundantly during a well-planned gap year.

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