Why America Should Encourage a Gap Year

During my travels, I noticed many kids from all over Europe who were travelling Southeast Asia for several months for their “gap year.” A gap year is a time between high school and university where young adults are expected to roam the world to gain some life experiences before their studies. The idea of a gap year is foreign to many Americans. When I graduated high school, my friends and I went to Myrtle Beach for “Beach Week” where the only thing I gained was a sunburn and a hangover. (Still had fun though!)

Traditionally, Americans graduate high school and move directly on to university, bright eyed and naïve. Furthermore, we have to choose a university and career path at the ripe age of 17. 17?! What the heck did I know at 17? Nothing. Perhaps that’s why several millennials have not used their degrees simply because we were not ready to make such an important decision. So, here are my reasons why I believe Americans should join the fun and take a gap year.

Time for Growth

I met the sweetest girls from Sweden during my travels to Bali who were currently traveling Asia during their gap year. I was curious about the details of a gap year, and what they planned on doing after their travels. They informed me once they got home they would choose a university and their intended degree. This was genius! These young adults had the chance to experience other ideologies, meet people with various jobs, and discover what opportunities are available. This time of travel is intended to help young adults gain new perspectives and grow on a multitude of levels. These kids aren’t rushed into making a life altering decision while still in school, yet are given the chance to discover their passions.

1559366_10100114056417480_1482348628_o

Patong, Thailand. Photo Krista Chencharick

Global Awareness

There’s a reason Americans have a bad reputation among other countries for being closed-minded and ignorant. Because sometimes we are. Here me out first! Many Americans have opinions on everything but don’t have the prior experience or proper knowledge to back it up. To understand many parts of the world, you need to fully immerse yourself in the culture. See how real ramen tastes in Japan, see how the tribes in Borneo live, go to a town where no one speaks your language. These types of experiences will give you a real opinion and stick with you forever. An article in National Geographic can only give you so much.

1115942_941742429120_1434201157_o

Mingling with the locals in Hong Kong.   Photo Krista Chencharick

10389345_848693048484727_3537164476878852281_n

Japanese train car in Osaka. Photo Xisa Dove

Gaining Independence

Prior to traveling I still felt sheltered and scared to do very much on my own. I literally cried when I found out I had to travel by myself to meet my friend in Costa Rica. It was my first plane ride, ok! The second I stepped foot into CR I put my big girl pants on and took charge, knowing I had to quickly navigate on my own. That experience made me feel empowered. I think for young adults to take a major trip before university will teach them to adapt to unexpected situations, gain a sense of responsibility (have to stretch your money for months!), and have the chance to make decisions on their own.

17252_555942474699_2712984_n

Young and naive in Samara, Costa Rica. Photo Patty O’Malley

Looking back, I wish I started saving my Bruster’s Ice Cream paycheck to go towards an amazing adventure instead of wasting it on that Wetseal outfit. I personally think an unforgettable memory trumps a handbag any day.

Friends, what are your thoughts on taking a gap year? Do you think this is something you would want to encourage your children to do one day?