Exploring the world: Gap years and the class of 2012
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 6:32pm
There has been a trend of more and more graduating seniors taking a year off before heading off to college. Gap years, as they are called, are becoming more popular because they allow students to take some time off after the stress of high school and before the stress of higher education begins. Each student who takes a gap year creates their own experience and each is totally unique to the individual. This year there are five graduating seniors in the class of 2012 who are taking gap years all over the globe.
The gap year, or 'bridge year,' is common in Europe and Australia and is considered like a rite of passage before attending university. Recently there has been an uptrend of American high school seniors also taking gap years. Schools such as Harvard and Princeton encourage all of their students to consider taking a gap year.
After spending over 13 years in the educational system, students are sometimes
spent and need to rediscover their passions and why they love to learn. Some studies show that students who take a gap year are better students and more involved community members when they return to school.
"Although I have had a really great experience at Uni and am glad that I chose to come here, after five years of working hard pretty much every day I must admit that I am feeling a little burnt out. I feel like Uni has prepared me to work hard in college, but in the process I have been overworked and underpaid, as the expression goes," said senior Marie Lilly. "I am still excited to go to college, but I am even more excited to have this opportunity to go spend a year having a unique experience outside of school, and then go to college."
Marie will be spend the fall semester of her gap year in Granada, Spain attending classes and living with a host family to perfect her Spanish. During the spring semester she hopes to visit Anna Bosch [German exchange student, class of 2012] for a month, then either work with Habitat for Humanity in Mississippi or work with a deforestation project in South America.
Googling 'gap year programs' turns up 4.87 million results. When you begin looking at what comes up, it is staggering what is being offered to students. Global Citizen Year offers a mini-Peace Corps experience where students can go to Senegal, Brazil, or Ecuador. AmeriCorps gives students the option of doing work at home and seeing change occur in the communities where they work. AFS allows students to live all over the world with host families to study a language. Someone could even choose to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), volunteering for free board and meals, with farms throughout the world. The options truly seem limitless and too good to be true.
One common complaint about gap year programs is their expense. Many of the nine month programs offered cost as much as a semester of college. However, there are also some less expensive programs that offer programs that are simply not billed under the title of 'gap year programs.'
Rotary Youth Exchange is an option very similar to AFS. Students travel to a foreign country, live with a host family, participate in activities, travel and meet students from all over the globe. The only charge to the family is the plane ticket to get the student there and back (although tickets to Australia, Argentina, or Taiwan are not exactly cheap). AmeriCorps and City Year are programs more difficult for high school students to get into, but offer great learning opportunities.
I will be spending the year participating in Rotary Youth Exchange in Lima, Peru, where I will attend a local high school and live with multiple host families. For the past year I have met with students who are here exchanging in Central Illinois - 'inbounds' as they are called in Rotary lingo - from all over the world: Poland, France, Argentina, Germany, Mexico, Thailand, Finland. This year I am an 'outbound,' but next year in Peru, among students from all over the world, I will be an inbound.
There is always the option to create your own gap year: interning, working for a semester to pay for the other. Each student has to find a program that fits them the best. Using sites such as Idealist, students are able to find jobs, internships, and volunteer programs throughout the world that help better the community.
Seniors Elena Bauer, Abigail Radnitzer and Ezra Winter-Nelson are creating their own gap years based on their interests. Bauer will spend the next year volunteering with America Reads in Jamestown, Mississippi, a place that she fell in love with while working with Habitat for Humanity at Uni. Winter-Nelson will be joining his family while they are on sabbatical in South Africa. In South Africa he will have an internship and travel throughout the country. Radnitzer will spend the year doing missionary work. She will first receive training, then her assignment, which she hopes will either be in South America or Africa.
When it came to making the decision to take a gap year, Lilly had no trepidations. Her decision was finalized after attending one of Lisa Micele's Uni Period sessions about gap years.
"Everyone there basically talked about how great of an experience their gap year was, even if not what they had expected, and one thing that really stuck with me was when someone said something like 'When else can you take a year off and see the world? People always say, 'oh yeah I can do that after I finish college' but you really can't because then you have to get a job, etc.'" said Lilly.
Students are aware that the experience will be a difficult one, but they believe that experience will be worthwhile and help them grow.
"I'm sure I will end up taking away a lot from this experience, but basically my hope is to spend the year exploring the world," said Lilly.