If you’ve worked in a hostel or even stayed in a hostel, you probably heard the term “gap year” used at least once. There are many young international travelers from the UK, Europe, and even Australia, who are taking gap years after finishing high school to travel the world, work on farms, volunteer, and learn a new language.
While it may be common in other countries, some people especially in the United States are asking “what is it?” It’s a concept that’s not very common in the U.S. and therefore a large percentage of students don’t even know what it is.
So first, let’s define what is a gap year. A gap year is a period of time taken off after graduation of high school and before starting your first year of university. Gap years have also been known to happen after completing your undergrad and before going into graduate school or starting your career. It’s during this time that students are able to take a break from their studies, travel the world, recharge their batteries, and reflect on where they want to go in life and what career path they want to choose.
Gap years began taking shape in the UK during the 1960’s. They were being encouraged by the governments as a cultural exchange in order to increase global awareness and prevent further world wars from occuring. College bound students took it as an opportunity to explore their passions and question their future paths and if they had to be the same as their parents.
Decades later in the 80’s and 90’s, flight tickets dropped, backpacking started becoming popular, and travel became much easier and cheaper. The concept of gap years began to spread throughout the rest of the UK and parts of Europe. Now, it’s about as common as someone in the U.S. taking a two-week vacation.
But so far, the concept has not yet spread throughout the United States. It’s starting to gain a little popularity, but it’s still a concept that’s too foreign and goes against the culture and economics of the U.S.
The U.S. economy is characterized with a “go, go, go” type attitude. Go to school, get good grades, go to college, graduate, get a job, work all your life, retire, and then maybe you can travel if you still have time.
Even in the high schools, they only give you the resources for college preparation. Gap years are not even mentioned. That’s why most students in the U.S. don’t even know what it is or that it’s even an option.
Also, it’s pretty much a given that Americans don’t travel as much either. The U.S. government doesn’t even have the vacation law like the European Union does. The traditional amount of time off is only 2 weeks a year. So the idea of taking three months or more to travel the world? That’s one crazy idea to the typical American.
But American’s are starting to realize the importance of gap years now. It’s money well spent as students are able to define their career paths before entering college and paying the high tuition prices. It’s a chance to take a break and reflect on what’s really important in your life. It’s an asset to employers because it increases skill sets and life experiences. But more important, it’s an opportunity to grow as an individual as it takes you out of your normal comfort zone.
So if you’re thinking of taking a gap year, do it. It will be money well spent. It will be an experience of a lifetime. You will have more of a global outlook on this world. And looking back, it will most likely be the best decision you’ve ever made in your life.