Friday, July 2, 2010

Taking a Gap Year


Despite its growing popularity among American high school graduates, the “gap year” is a largely foreign concept, literally. In Europe, particularly in British young people, it is a fairly common practice. Gap years range from vacations to work study to service projects. But as this phenomenon expands to American students, the emphasis on service-learning gap years continues to grow.

Gap year programs allow students to take time between high school and college (or take a break during college, or a break between college and grad school as the case may be) to enroll in volunteer or service programs, from next door to half way around the world. This not only helps students build confidence and independence, it connects them to others throughout the world, helping them to define their commitment not only to their own community but to the global community at large.

The trend in American education has been very track oriented. Students enter formal education at 5 and leave at 18 or 22, depending on whether or not they attend college. The ability of a student to manage this track and whether or not they make it to college has thus far been the only measure of success. But with the gap year comes a new orientation toward education and an understanding that without the kind of civic engagement and enrichment that comes with service-learning, our education just may be incomplete.

Organizations like The Center for Interim Programs provide applicants with programs that are specifically suited to their interests, helping them to further define their goals and plans for the future. Internships allow them to gain important skills while also giving them the opportunity to contribute to communities and environments in need.

Princeton University has institutionalized the gap year with their Bridge Program which allows accepted students to defer for a year to engage in Princeton-sponsored service projects in India, Ghana, Serbia or Peru. Students get intensive language training, live with a local family and engage in service projects to improve the environment, technology or education in areas in need.

Gap years don’t have to be international, however. Both City Year and AmeriCorps have programs which are available to those who have finished high school and not yet started college. These programs allow students to participate in service projects within the United States, helping them to get to know their country better, to get further insight into the diversity and culture of their home country and become further invested and engaged with its issues.

What all of these gap year programs have in common is a sense of broadening horizons. Education should include more than just facts and figures. Service projects allow participants to feel truly connected to their communities – be it their hometown, state, country or the global community at large. Gap year participants will come to know intimately a problem and a solution, another culture or another person. When they return to college, or their job or whatever their post high-school plans entail, they will be able to take and use this knowledge. They will have seen the results of their participation and engagement and they will know that it matters.

Tell us about your gap year experiences. What has that experience had on you? Please share your stories in the comments below!

photo courtesy of JRMD, Burundi and ICP

3 comments:

Shannon_TBCP said...

Also can we do a link swap.
You have great knowledge in this topic. I am currently trying to raise money for my gap year check it out http://shannontbcp.blogspot.com/2010/07/hello-everyone.html

珮陽 said...
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吳婷婷 said...
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