Gap Year for Americans

Gap year for Americans!

Hong Kong

“Gap years are becoming more common in the U.S. and are promoted by organizations like Global Citizen Year.” -Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

Recently, I was thinking about the time when my (then) new husband and I decided to up and move to Australia. He wanted to experience studying overseas and needed a break between his graduate and post graduate work. I just needed a break from the world of work! At the time I recall friends and family being concerned about our decision. They worried about the impact it might have on our future careers and of course about our being so far away for so long.

This got me wondering why it’s so common in Europe and Australia to take a gap year but not in the U.S. So, I did a little research. Here’s what I found.

First of all, if you don’t know what a gap year is, you are not alone. It is a year, typically between high school and university, during which you travel to parts unknown to study, intern, explore, or learn a new language. Of course, the gap year is not limited to being between high school and university – it can be between finishing university and working, or between undergraduate study and graduate study.

It is less common for U.S. citizens to take a gap year than for Europeans or Australians

There are many reasons why a gap year is not as popular in the U.S. as overseas. The “American Work Ethic” for example, and the fact that in general Americans travel less. However, it appears that this trend is changing and recent studies are showing that, of those Americans who do take a gap year, 9 out of 10 return to their studies.

My husband did return to the U.S. to continue his studies, ultimately earning his Ph.D. I also returned to my studies at the master’s level. Most important to us, though, was that we were now bitten by the travel bug. Over the next 24 years of marriage we have traveled far and wide and have experienced many interesting adventures. There is no doubt that these experiences have colored our perceptions — but more importantly, they have changed others’ perception of us in a very positive way.

If you are interested in learning more about gap years there are many, many organizations that sponsor them such as Global Citizen Year.

USA Gap Year Fairs is a great place to get more familiar with the concept and learn about opportunities and programs.

A gap year is not only about overseas travel either. There are many opportunities right here at home, too. This can be great if you worry about finances or even just about not speaking another language.

A wonderful website to help you learn more is Go Overseas. I highly recommend contributing editor Jennifer Moy. Her posts are insightful and full of great information.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have taken a gap year or are encouraging your teens to do so.

Further reading:

NBC News – More U.S. Students Taking a Gap Year Break

American Gap Association

Go West, Young People! And East! by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times


Author: Beth Parker

Mother of 3 teens (one off to college this coming fall). Recently relocated to Blacksburg, VA from Shanghai, China where we spent 4 years. I am TEFL certified and currently host English Conversation Groups and privately teach English as a second language. I love travel writing and photography.

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