Travel is still the most intense mode of learning.
– Kevin Kelly
A gap year or a bridge year, not only represents freedom to explore a wide world of possibilities (as well as uncertainty) but also the unique opportunity to take some precious time off after a major milestone or life event, such as graduation or the end of a contract or working position.
It helps to truly focus on something that fuels our passions, prepares us for the life ahead or simply gain some invaluable (and much-needed) experience. In return, it teaches many skills in a completely different environment (which will be very useful later on).
The media created a big buzz after the White House announced that President Obama’s oldest daughter Malia had graduated from high school and decided to take a gap year before pursuing her studies at Harvard University (and following in the footsteps of her famous parents).
Of course, not everyone has the financial mean$ to travel around the world on whim or set plans or pursue other interests before starting college or a career. However one does not need to have six or seven digits in a bank account, or come from a wealthy family to do something truly meaningful and productive with the time available to use as they wish.
In the past few weeks I have received a few emails from some organizations and companies that created and run programs for students who want to take a break from their education path and they asked me what I thought about and if I’ve ever done something like that.
The answer to that question is a resounding and enthusiastic YES! I firmly believe that a gap year is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one of the best investments of your life (same goes for Studying Abroad) and truly is a smart move anyone can ever make. It ultimately will pay back many times over under different forms or reward you with rich experiences (and leave you with precious memories) that will transform you…FOREVER. Life, as you know it will never be the same, EVER again.
How do I know?
Well let me tell you my story…
After graduating from community college (which is an institution where you study for two years prior to entering the university), I decided to take an entire year off to work and save some necessary fund$. That was quite a leap of faith and honestly, I needed to take a long break because I had been studying and working since I was about 12 years old (From delivering newspapers starting at 5 a.m. with my brother in the neighborhood, to babysitting neighbor’s kinds, to running errands, I know the value of time, work, discipline and compensation).
Now I did quite a few things during my time away. I worked at a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch (see, I was a Foodie in training); I was a part-time salesperson at a major department store (that position lasted a few years and definitely sharpened my communication skills) and was also a private tutor for kids who had summer school (I’ve always loved sharing my knowledge, thus being an educator later in life was much easier).
Quite frankly, I do not know where I exactly found the motivation and energy to do all those things for an extended period of time but I had clear goals and was very proud that I kept working towards them every single day. Ultimately, I reached them and succeeded!
Thanks to those “gigs” I was able to save for a trip to Central America (where I am originally from), which was a real eye opener and it completely transformed me. Little did I know that I was going to learn to be humble and grateful for my life back then.
As I look in retrospect, I can honestly say that it was definitely necessary for my growth on all levels and everything I went through began to make sense. They say that everything happens for a reason, well I am truly glad I got out of my comfort zone and faced the unknown. Those risks were totally worth it and paid off big time.
Why taking a gap year is a great idea?
Here are 8 good reasons (and benefits).
I learned all about schedules, timelines and deadlines. I encouraged myself to go to sleep earlier (even if I admit that I am a night owl, my brain is so active that sometimes I need to wake up in the middle of the night and write down some thoughts or ideas!) and woke up before sunrise at 5 a.m. to be at the bus stop to get to the subway station and catch the first train in order to be at my workplace for opening at 6 a.m. I did that for about 3 months during the busiest season, rain or shine, hot or cold, tired or motivated. Excuses were neither accepted nor existing.
One of the strong values I learned from my family is to be where I need to be at least 30 minutes in advance. They say that it’s better to get there early than being late which is an embarrassment and that is a fact. You can do a few things while you wait: read the news, have a cup of coffee, prepare for the day ahead or just start your day in a good and positive mode which still rings true to this day.
A gap year is such a unique and wonderful opportunity to have complete freedom with your time, and it is a once in a lifetime chance to make the most out of it, so use it carefully and think it through as you may not ever again get the chance to do everything you have always wanted to do on your terms. Trust me on this one, you will get busy and life will make sure you have lots to keep you busy. 150% guaranteed.
Value of money
As I mentioned above, I have been working for quite some time now, trust me I do know how it feels to work hard and earn each a shiny dime or gold dollar.
You must learn to give great (and genuine) service and time in exchange of a paycheck or compensation and also teach yourself to set aside a specific amount (which will be used immediately right after or at a later date) but forming the habit as soon as you start receiving an income is an absolute requirement.
It may be tempting to go blow it all or burn it or drink it (Happy Hours anyone?) but remember all the time and effort it took to have it.
It is important to have goals and write them down. That way you know what you are working and saving towards!
I had my university tuition, books and other things that were top priority, so I just had to force myself not to go nuts. However I did treat myself to a trip of a lifetime (that travel bug bites hard and there’s no cure :)). That whirlwind trip around Europe (I visited 16 countries during a period of 2 months, clearly one of my best adventures EVER). It goes without saying that working, saving and keeping that goal in clear sight and all the sacrifices that had to be made in order to make that life-long dream come true was absolutely worth it and would do it all over again.
A gap year will require an amount of money which can vary depending on where you want to go and what you want to do. Of course at home it is the least expensive (or not) but in some countries it will last much longer due living costs.
In my humble opinion, I am not a big fan of paying to participate in a program which costs thousands including administration fees and other expenses. Why? If it’s a non-profit, why does it have to have to be so high for students or adults taking time away to help or contribute?
If it includes airfare, accommodation, meals and transportation for the duration of the program ok, it’s understandable and fair. On the other hand, the funds can be used more efficiently if you do your own research and find something that really appeals to you and is trustworthy.
If it is an education program that will allow students to get college credits it is also something to consider, however these organized trips defeat the purpose of what a gap year truly is.
The School of Life has plenty of lessons to teach us and we must be willing and ready to graduate from one level to the next!
There is no other time in your life where you will be able to feel free and not be weighted-down financially because that is a big responsibility that we all have, there’s no escape to that right?
My motto is the following:
Read, learn, earn, save, and go 🙂
No company or project is successful without a group of individuals who have a common goal or objective. Every person has a different personality and we must be flexible, open and willing to work with a multitude of characters, therefore patience is a great skill to have and improve! We all have something good to bring to the table and getting along is a must.
What I learned is that every single person you meet has something important to teach you and it is up to you to figure out how to apply the knowledge acquired or how to improve your own life!
Immersing in a new culture
We all know how exciting it is to plan a trip and making a detailed list of everything needed in order to make it a reality becomes an exciting challenge!
The marvel of getting on an airplane, flying to a distant location in only a matter of hours and once arriving at a destination, have our senses bombarded or actually waking up to a whole different world than the one we’re so used to!
Getting out of your comfort zone does take a whole lot of courage but it is well worth it at the end of the day.
As a guest to another country is to learn all we can and immerse ourselves in their culture, observe the way they live. It makes them who they are and they are more than happy to share their history and stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Find out what they are passionate about and be open to conversations, ideas, etc.
Testing your taste buds
Fortunately I was born with the wanderlust and adventurous genes which includes experimenting and tasting food from different corners of the globe.
From a young age I have been exposed and introduced from delicious fare, from Portuguese, to Hungarian to Vietnamese, to North African to Ibero American to Middle Eastern to Latin American culinary specialties.
I am very grateful and fortunate to have had a family where trying something different to what we were accustomed to was highly encouraged. This certainly prepared me for all my adventures and the times I lived in different countries later on.
One of the great ways to get to know the culture of a country is through FOOD!
Meal times in a foreign country are quite an experience that should be lived. It brings people together and makes us appreciate each and every one’s presence. Not only the local and freshest ingredients are used, the preparation and presentation (as well as the history behind its creation) is served on the side 🙂
Test your taste buds by savoring local and typical dishes. Be adventurous and give it a try! You never know and your palate might really like it and you’ll associate memories to it.
Food is a sensorial experience, thus all your senses will be active participants and also the people around the table will be looking forward to seeing your reaction or getting your impression. You will have plenty to talk about alongside drinks!
After all, we remember feelings, moments, colors, flavors and sounds right?
Make new friends (and perhaps lifelong)
As the saying goes, people come into your life for a season, a reason or a lifetime!
Breaking the ice and connecting with the locals and making new friends is a skill and it is just something you must do in order to grow on many levels.
Talking to strangers may be uncomfortable, if the language barrier is an obstacle, but one must stretch and also push yourself to be more compassionate, understanding and accepting.
As human beings we need to communicate and are social by nature, thus one has to make the first step in order to get to know others and who knows what connections you can make!
I’ve spoken to complete strangers on planes, trains and automobiles and some even were angels in disguise.
Even if you travel alone, you are NEVER lonely! Honest, warm, friendly, kind and welcoming people from all walks of life will cross your path and some are like Godsend and thank you Lord for that. They are like unexpected but great surprises.
They will teach you more than you could ever ask for. I learned the real meaning of friendship when I met some incredible persons who are still my friends even two decades later! God Bless them.
Never miss an opportunity to make new friends!
Become conscious and appreciative of the environment
It is absolutely true when they say that you never know what you have, until it’s gone…or when you are far, far away.
I’ve realized that my own country is abundantly blessed with lots of green spaces, mountains, clear lakes, modern roads, clean streets and gives recycling a high priority.
We must be protective of what we have now so that future generations will also enjoy and respect the environment because it’s our duty to keep it or safeguard it.
See your home country with a new set of eyes
Your house or apartment is a castle, luxurious. A hot shower is a present, firm bed and soft pillow, uninterrupted electricity, efficient transportation system, democracy, freedom, education.
All the things we normally take for granted on a daily basis suddenly become luxuries rather than necessities and all it takes is for us to be away from our normal environment to realize that and actually be thankful and know that we’ll find it again upon returning home. It does open our eyes and definitely makes us more appreciative and humble.
I firmly believe that everything that I’ve experienced and learned so far was not only necessary for my personal growth; I learned extremely valuable lessons by facing my fears and got them out-of-the-way. We all have to do what scares you EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!
Traveling to different sides of our planet made me realize that the freedom we enjoy (and take for granted more often than we think) today truly is a gift, a once in a lifetime opportunity that may never come again!
That is why we must make the most out of our time here and get involved or take a look at the numerous options available to locally or internationally:
It can be
There is no shortage of causes or destinations that need our contribution, time, help or intervention.
Learn all you possibly can by working at a company or organization that is highly successful since it will help you become a professional equipped with the right tools and have the right mindset. Anything knowledge or skills you acquire do not have a price tag or can be counted.
As an educator, I can personally say that is one of the most gratifying things to share what you know with eager and curious minds that will benefit from your knowledge to improve their lives. To see them succeed is your retribution. Education is the wing on which dreams fly!
In this technology-driven society (and world), a wealth of FREE information is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime!
Take the time to study ANY subject at your pace. There really is no excuse nowadays as to why you cannot take free classes online or head to the local library which has millions of documents, books at your disposal for your own growth and progress. Oh, did I mention it’s FREE?
As someone said: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!” Those are certainly true and words right?
Now you know Why Taking A Gap Year Is A Great Idea.
I’m turning it over to you.
Did you ever take a Gap Year?
If so, what did you do or where did you go?
If you didn’t, what stopped or prevented you from doing it?
I’m pretty curious to find out more, so please don’t be shy and tell us all about it in the comments!
Until next time
Tashi Delek, All the best.