In the last twenty years, much has been written about the benefits of taking gap time:
•learning outside the classroom
•pursuing areas of interest
•immersing in different cultures
•cultivating leadership skills
•being of sustained service
•gaining clarity regarding college studies or potential career paths
•producing higher GPAs in college (proven research)
What has not been sufficiently addressed, given the relative youth of the US gap year field, is the benefit of taking gap time over the span of a lifetime. There is a germination process that does not necessarily come to fruition at the close of a student’s gap year. This unfolding continues beyond the immediate excitement and the “aha” moments of learning, beyond the transition into college or a first job post college.
To my mind, the germination seed is the experience each student has of choosing and creating his or her life for a year. Like gaining fluency in a language, there is fluency derived from practicing making and owning decisions from a core pivot of interests rather than an outer shell of oughts and shoulds. Instead of being run by “I have to do this. I’m supposed to do that. What will people think?” there is a shift to “I choose…” Choosing from the core is the beginning of personal power and, in this respect, gap time is not simply a break in one’s life but rather something that becomes woven into the very fabric of one’s being. It becomes a way of being.
From personal experience, having taken two gap years before college in 1980 and during college in 1983, I can say with certainty that the places I traveled, the people with whom I connected, the setbacks and triumphs I navigated, have stayed vividly with me despite the passage of time. They have become part of my way of being. Four months in Hawaii doing aquaculture research evokes the smell of island flowers along with fish and shrimp tanks I had to clean. I recall conversations with coworkers who had been in Vietnam or chose to head instead to Canada, eye-opening revelations regarding the war’s direct effects compared to hearing news or studying it in history class. Three months in Greece offered coursework connected to the culture and I still love speaking modern Greek (poorly) to this day. India and Nepal yielded experiences of intense cultural differences with the accompanying reassurance that human beings really can connect across potential language or living style barriers. And I learned from Appalachia not to assume that the mindset of Americans is that of an urban east coast dweller. After exploring the world as a traveler for extended months compared to weeks as a tourist, I knew I could handle myself in the unfamiliar. The result is an ease with continuing to step into new experience throughout my life.
I believe that early gap time exploring encourages us to avoid fear-based decision-making and, as a result, we retain more of a sense of freedom and possibility as we move through later life stages.
Holly Bull is the President of the Center for Interim Programs. Check them out at https://www.interimprograms.com/ or e-mail her direct for any questions you may have regarding Gap Year Programs at HollyBull@interimprograms.com