The term gap year was coined in the 1960's UK. The term gained more prominence in the early 1980's in United States. A gap year, in essence, is a year spent away from traditional education focusing on service, charity, and exploration. Today, the Associated Press reports that as many as 30-40,000 students taking a gap year. This number is on a steady increase.
Gap Year Programs
There are a lot of options to help figure out how to go on Gap Years. There are a number of organizations that help students decide how best to utilize their Gap Year. Many universities encourage or run their own gap year programs for their incoming students.
Benefits of a Gap Year
A gap year can be a great opportunity for young students to make a difference and explore new realities and find their interests. Many students speak of the gap year as a transformative experience and are glad to have done it.
Gap Year Challenges
People generally volunteer overseas because they want to contribute something meaningful and experience a new culture. However, some gap year providers may be more concerned with creating a ‘life-changing’ experience for the volunteer, with less focus on the purpose and the needs of local communities. This is the particularly the case with gap year programs that offer volunteering with children. Despite the best intentions of volunteers who want to care for children, it can do more harm than good. Children who live in orphanages are quick to form relationships with volunteers as they arrive, only to feel abandoned once again when they leave. What’s more, an estimated 80% are not actually orphans and have at least one living parent. A growing number of volunteer operators never have or have ceased orphanage volunteering programs. Find out who they are.
Going on a Gap Year
Prior to embarking on a gap year, please use our volunteer checklist to help you select a program and ensure your time is genuinely spent making a difference.
Claire Bennett, the founder of one of our partner organisations, Learning Service, has co-authored a book, about international volunteering. Learning Service: the essential guide to volunteering overseas encourages a learning mindset for making the right decisions about the type and choice of volunteering placement. It is available to purchase from Amazon.