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.