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The Gap Year Abroad

By Susan Griffith

The expression "gap year," so familiar to British students, is not used in North America because no tradition has developed in the U.S. or Canada of high school graduates taking a year off before proceeding to college. But European traditions have a habit of crossing the Atlantic. Tony Wheeler, publisher of the Lonely Planet guidebook series, wrote recently that "even in America, a blank year or two on your CV, once looked upon as a sure sign of unreliability and lack of application, is now starting to be seen as a sign of adventurousness and a wider understanding of the outside world."

Increasingly, U.S. colleges and schools tolerate and even encourage students to defer college entrance for a year. Admissions departments understand that by taking some time to explore their interests between high school and college, students may become more motivated and effective. And like colleges and universities, exchange organizations in the U.S. are also beginning to promote the concept of a gap year.

The organization that was the model for the Peace Corps, Operation Crossroads Africa, has recently initiated a program in Namibia called Pamwe Namibia which it describes as a "Gap Year Opportunity." The British American Educational Foundation promotes an "English Adventure" for those seeking a year of personal growth and discovery between high school and college. A company called LEAPNOW in California, offers a "Leap Year" program for students aged 17-24, as well as other programs on their website. Gradually, the choices are widening for young people looking for a year of supervised independence.

Deciding where to go may turn out to be just as difficult as deciding to go, so consider a medley of activities. A possible program might include a language or an art course in Europe, a volunteer placement or internship in a developing country, with some some paid work thrown in to help finance it all.

A key U.S. and Canadian student exchange organizations, InterExchange, accept pre-university students into some of their programs, provided applicants are over the age of 18. InterExchange can arrange teaching English jobs (in China, Germany, Italy, Ghana, France, Spain, and Thailand, for example), facilitate volunteer opportunities, set up short-term work in selected countries, and place au pairs in Europe and Australia/New Zealand.

SUSAN GRIFFITH is co-editor of Work Abroad and contributing editor for Work Abroad for Transitions Abroad Magazine. See Susan's bio for more information about her extensive bibliography.