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How to Have the Best Gap Year Abroad (just like Malia Obama)

With Malia Obama taking a year off between high school and Harvard, the phrase “gap year” has been floating around quite a bit recently. But what is a gap year really, and how can you best take advantage of this year between?

gap year student

Simply put a gap year is a year between high school and college to do, well basically, anything. Some choose to gain work experience and save up for school, others choose to travel around on their own, and there are examples of every option in between. To get the most out of a gap year, however, many experts recommend structuring the year and having a clear goal and an idea of the things you would like to accomplish. When used wisely, gap years can be incredible experiences of personal growth and learning, a time to experience the world and to experience something completely different than you might have if you went straight from high school on to college.

Take a look at some of the most highly recommended ways to spend a gap year, get inspired and jump into the gap (year) to see what you find:

Learn a New Skill:

One of the best ways to use your year “off” from traditional school is by learning a new skill. This can be anything from learning how to sail to learning Spanish. Of course we are biased, but learning a new language in a foreign country (where the language you are learning is the native language) is one of the most powerful experiences possible for getting out of your comfort zone, and out of your own head. It is a way to experience a whole new world and way of looking at things, like no other. Not to mention learning a language like Spanish is an incredibly important skill for succeeding both at university when you return from your gap year and in the wider world after college. Learning a new skill, not matter which you choose, in a new setting, is a gap year that will change your life for the better.

gap year student in Spain

Volunteer:

Volunteering is a powerful way to not only help others, share your skills and learn in a hands-on environment, it is also the perfect way to experience new cultures and ways of living that may not be accessible to you by traveling in any other way. A lot of people choose to take a gap year in order to see the “real” world in a way that is just not possible on the insulated path from high school directly into college. Volunteering abroad is a great way to feel purposeful during your gap year and to learn a great deal about the world from new surroundings and people.

Complete an Internship (abroad):

Completing an internship is a way to surround yourself with people from different backgrounds (especially if you choose to complete the internship abroad – a double whammy for skill building). It is not only a way to gain valuable work experience, it is also a great opportunity to exit the sheltered world of school where teachers lay everything out for you and to enter into the working world in a way that will teach you to be independent, make good decisions and speak for yourself. Add completing the internship abroad and in a new language, and you will be a triple threat when you return home.

gap year student reflecting

Of course there are many people who see taking a gap year as something reserved for the well-to-do or privileged. However, there are many ways to explore the world even if your wallet is not overflowing. Many universities offer gap year related scholarships, either granted toward your travels abroad, or towards attending the university after completing the gap year. The American Gap Association also does a great job of listing some great scholarships and financial aid options out there for those from the US looking for a way to fund their time of exploration.

gap year student in barcelona

Of course you don’t have to take our word for it. According to data on gap year students from the US in 2015, gappers had higher GPAs later in college, shorter graduation times and more civic engagement and satisfaction with the jobs they held after college than those who did not experience a gap year. Taking a gap year, a gap semester, or even more than one gap year before jumping into college is the perfect way to recharge, grow as an individual and explore the world.

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