4 reasons to consider a gap year abroad
Updated: May 19
In Fall 2008, I was all set to attend the University of Cincinnati's law school -- until the moment I decided I wasn't and subsequently deferred my place.
Instead, I hopped on a plane to undertake a gap year in Ireland at a time when "the book" (as in, living by the book) said I should've been at law school orientation (or if nothing else, looking for a job to start paying off those student loans).
But what happened next was an experience more memorable and more vital to the person I am today than any other.
My gap year abroad
Sure, I never made it back to law school, but my gap year abroad set in motion a series of events that would lead me on the right path toward a career in international education as well as defining the kind of person I wanted to be.
Heck, the fictionalized version of events of that gap year even became a book called 'The Lost and Found' (perhaps one day a movie?).
So I'm really excited to introduce this week's guest post from Rebecca Barr, the Strategic Partnerships Manager for EF Gap Year, who shares four reasons to consider a gap year of your own (though I'd recommend doing it prior to having to repay all those student loans!).
Written by guest blogger Rebecca Barr
When I made the decision to take a gap year back in the day, I had no idea of the types of experiences and opportunities it would open for me.
Now working in international education, I love seeing the ways that our gap alumni grow and bloom!
If you’re even remotely considering a gap, here are some of the ways that your gap can set you up for success throughout your life.
1) Gain skills you need for the real world
Taking a gap is a great way to cultivate some of the skills that will help you make the transition from high school to your next steps in college and beyond.
In today’s world, skills like adaptability, cross-cultural communication, critical thinking, and a growth mindset are some of the most important skills for young people to nurture, both for their own development and for their future career paths.
These soft skills will help you navigate a world where life paths are breaking away more and more from a linear path.
Developing these skills will allow you to “bloom where you’re planted” –- to be able to make the most of any situation you encounter, anywhere in the world.
2) Move from an “I should” mindset to an “I choose” mindset
In high school a lot of students feel pressure to make decisions based on what they feel like they “should” be doing.
For example, maybe you joined that club to make yourself look more competitive on your college applications, or you took that extra AP class because your parents thought it might set you ahead of your peers in college.
Taking a gap, on the other hand, is all about learning to make decisions based on what drives you, what inspires you, and what allows you to make your mark on the world in your own unique way.
By going abroad, you get to see the way other cultures and societies live.
Whether you’re in Stockholm or in Shanghai, you’ll encounter a lot of things that are new to you: new ideas, new lifestyles, new environments, and new opportunities.
Seeing the way other people live can help you adjust your own trajectory and your own priorities to make sure you take your next steps in life with clarity and confidence.
3) “Prototype” living in different environments
This is an important one, especially if you’re considering studying, living, or working abroad (or even in a different part of the U.S!).
After deciding to take a gap year, you can customize it to fit your goals and interests.
Perhaps you want the true immersion experience of spending a year in Spain working on your language and professional skills.
Maybe you want to have meaningful experiences in several different unique locations across the globe – studying French in Paris, working on a service learning project in Tanzania, and doing an internship in Sydney.
No matter what path you take, you’ll be able to try out what it’s like to live in new locations.
This is your chance to do some reflection –- what do you like about the new environment in which you’re living? What aspects made for a difficult adjustment? Do you like being in a bigger city, or a smaller environment? Where did you find yourself feeling that ineffable sense of belonging?
Pondering all of these questions can help you figure out where and how you want to live in the future.
4) Seize the moment
The opportunity to take a gap doesn’t come around often!
Deciding to take a gap can open up your life to paths you didn’t even know were possible.
To give you an idea of how a gap can impact you, after taking a gap, some of our alumni have…
Decided to go to college abroad – from Amsterdam to Australia
Changed their major – like our alumna who changed her major from Art to Marine Biology after working on an incredible coral reef project in the Dominican Republic
Pursued job opportunities that were offered to them abroad at the companies where they did their international internships
So make the most of this unique time in your life to have some incredible experiences, while equipping yourself with skills and experiences that will set you up for success in college, in your career, and in your life.
No matter gap path you choose, taking an international gap is a decision that will open up your life to unexpected and amazing paths!
Rebecca Barr has been a proponent of gap years ever since she took one herself in Turkey! Now having lived, studied, and worked in countries including Germany, Thailand, and Qatar, Rebecca loves making it possible for more students to have impactful international experiences. She currently works as the Manager of Institutional Relations at EF Gap Year in Boston.