Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Minding the Gap

I recently finished a fantastic book called Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World. For anyone who read and enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, you have to pick up Nomad. It chronicles the travels of author Rita Golden Gelman—a woman who fifteen years prior to writing the book gave up her permanent address and set out to live abroad in communities spanning Mexico, Bali, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Canada, New Zealand and more. With each new village, home, and continent she experiences, she learns about herself and her world. And what a small world it is.

I visited her website today and saw that she’s advocating something I had never heard of before: the Gap Year.

According to Wikipedia, a gap year “refers to a prolonged period (often, but not always, a year) between a life stage.” The most popular timing for the gap year seems to be between high school and college or college and graduate school.

Gelman is pushing to get the word out to students, encouraging them to take a gap year and experience life before stepping into their next phase of education. I think this is brilliant.

When I was twenty, attending community college and dreaming of having grown-up adventures, I picked up some information about studying abroad in Germany. I had an “important job” at a coffeehouse, so a journey like that just felt like a pipe dream. Then at my first advertising job, one of our receptionists took six months to go live in Edinburgh, Scotland and travel through Europe—again stoking my dreams of living elsewhere, but leading me to realize it “just wasn’t practical.” The middle-class society I grew up in didn’t advocate trips like these.

I only remember one of my close high school friends going abroad during college—and that was through school. Nobody took a year to travel and volunteer or find themselves because no one was encouraging any of us to do that. It would be too irresponsible.

But what might the world be like if we had taken time to get to know other cultures? Might we all be a little closer? Might we not only understand other people better, but perhaps also be more warmly regarded around the world as Americans?

I can’t imagine how far reaching the benefits of a gap year could be. Those days abroad wouldn’t just expand horizons and modes of thinking, but would likely build self esteem and problem-solving skills. I think it would help kids grow into stronger adults.

My 14-year old niece travels to do volunteer work with her church and I think this is a perfect starting place. I hope at some point in her school career, she careens off the straight and narrow a bit, and sets out on a faraway adventure. I also hope that if she chooses to do this, I can come visit.


laura said...

The only Gap I am accustomed to is the one at the mall...a year abroad would be great! At least you are getting a 6-week gap this summer!!!

SoMi's Nilsa said...

I love the idea of a gap year. I know my friend from England and all her childhood friends did the gap year between high school and college. Many of them went to Australia for the year. If only we could all do that (or take sabbaticals, like they do in academia). I think it's a great way to recharge the body!

charlotteharris said...

it sounds like you're getting to take your "gap year" after all with your upcoming travel sabbatical!

Sizzle said...

It's honestly one of my few regrets in life- not going abroad when I was younger. I transferred from community college and by the time I was in a school with an abroad program, I didn't fit the criteria. I really wanted to go to Ireland and work on women's issues there!

I think the gap year is a most excellent plan!

Anonymous said...

I've pondered it, but given my reaction lately to solo traveling (remember the OC trip a few weeks back), I don't think I'd enjoy it as much as I would have in my 20's...

Mel Heth said...

Laura - Where were our parents in our twenties - they should've been encouraging us to travel! And not just to Casino Morango!

Nilsa - Yeah, those Europeans and Australians seem to have it right. They know that travel is critical to life!

Charlotte - Where you been all my life! I was so sad to find I'd been locked out of your blog!

Sizzle - I think you should still do that!!! Seriously! I've been to Ireland and it's incredible. The people are so wonderful and it's gorgeous over there. Why don't you come stay with me and Mr. W this summer and give Ireland a little visit? :)

Mel Heth said...

Geekhiker - You and I were posting comments at the same time, so I missed ya. I think traveling solo to someplace like Europe is a little different than the OC... I think the likelihood of making friends with other solo travelers over there is quite a bit higher.

Amy Turpin said...

Great blog!!! I want to read that book, but it isn't available on audible...yet. Instead I just downloaded Eat, Pray, Love - can't wait to listen to it (yes, listen...I have no time to read)!!! Also, I am sending my niece the website you put up about the Gap Year. She is graduating from High School and entering the perfect time. You are awesome!