|There comes a point in everyone’s life when they question what to do next. For many, this coincides with graduation from high school. You’re considered an adult for the first time in your life and are required to make decisions about your future that you may or may not be ready for. There are the lucky few that decide in kindergarten what they want to be when they grow up and their determination to achieve it never waivers, but if you’re not one of those people, this milestone can be one of the most terrifying times in your young life. You know what you’re supposed to do, go to college or get a job, but maybe those aren’t the only two choices you should be considering. Don’t let what is expected deter you from pursuing the unexpected.
What is a gap year?
Exceedingly common in Europe, gap years have only recently entered the conversation for many young Americans. A gap year is an opportunity to travel and experience new cultures, learn new skills and grow as an individual. They teach young people to become self-reliant and gain an understanding of what it means to be an adult. Teenagers who participate in a gap year generally develop a higher level of maturity and are better prepared for their next step. For many, it affords an opportunity to find meaning and purpose that lasts well beyond the year in question.
Where should you go?
There is no hard and fast gap year destination. You don’t have to travel to the opposite side of the world but testing the boundaries of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in a new culture can be liberating and life-altering. Developing an understanding of other parts of the world will be a valuable experience no matter where your future takes you. If you do have a desire to experience other cultures, a gap year can be the perfect time to seize the opportunity. Grab your backpack and stay in hostels, you’re likely to meet plenty of people and make connections with individuals from all over the world.
What should you do?
If you, or maybe more importantly your parents, want more than extended vacation from your pre-college experience, there are plenty of productive ways you can spend your gap year. Volunteer for an organization in Southeast Asia and help developing communities grow. Intern abroad in Europe to gain some practical skills and help you determine a potential career path. These types of offerings provide a more structured atmosphere, typically with experienced adults there to assist along the way. It really doesn’t matter where you go or what you do as long as you are learning from your experience.
Is a gap year right for you?
If you’ve been asking yourself “What do I want to do?” or “Is college right for me?” maybe "Should I take a gap year?” is the more appropriate question. If you’re not sure about what you want to do for the rest of your life, that’s okay, and a gap year may just help you discover your purpose. Even if you are confident that you know what your future holds, you never know what this type of experience will do for you. It may give you the added confirmation that you are pursuing the right path, it may provide you with valuable skills to enhance your education or it may make you change your mind completely and help you uncover something even more meaningful.
There are a lot of questions to be answered and opportunities to consider and it may not be right for everyone, but a gap year can provide clarity and direction for your future. Spending a year learning new things about yourself that you may not otherwise have had the opportunity to learn can hardly be considered a waste of time. There is no one correct path, there is only yours.