Gap years are sometimes viewed as the lazy option. And let’s be honest, not all parents like the idea of their kids taking a gap year. They worry their offspring will never get started with their lives. What if they spend it just playing video games and eating ice cream?

Then there are the concerns about traveling abroad – far away from parental oversight. What if they come back from their travels with an incurable tropical disease, a drug habit or a hastily acquired husband or wife?
 
Yet despite these concerns, most gap year students graduate more quickly, tend to have higher grades and are perceived to be ‘more mature, more self-reliant and independent’ than non-Gap Year students’, according to an Australian research paper and the (arguably perhaps somewhat biased) American Gap Association. For many students, taking a break between learning institutions allows motivation for and interest in studies to be renewed, they say.
 

With interest in gap years on the rise in the US, there are more opportunities for travel, getting out of your comfort zone, while learning new things and preparing yourself for college than ever before. Here are five things that you should definitely consider when considering your options:
 

Volunteer work

 

Whether it’s rebuilding a school in Nepal, teaching English in Thailand or working on a horse farm in the UK, you have all sorts of volunteering opportunities around the world. Volunteering is a great chance to find out whether the job that you dreamed about is actually the right fit for you. You can access volunteering opportunities such as GreenlionAfrican Impact or VP Bali. And there are hundreds if not thousands more.
 

Check beforehand what is included in the price. Do note that the costs for volunteering that you pay for the company are often for accommodation, food, drinks, staff and equipment which are necessary for you to do the job.
 

I’d always wanted to be a teacher, but I soon learned after teaching in Thailand that, even though I love kids, I’m not cut out for teaching. I always ended up playing football with them instead of actually teaching them anything. And because the chances of being paid to play football in Thailand are even more remote in Thailand than they are in Europe, it’s not a good idea to put me in front of a class. Learned my lesson there.
 

Do an internship

 
When it comes to CV building, learning new skills and gaining work experience, there are few better ways than doing an internship. Wherever there are companies, there are internship opportunities. So you can combine working with travel. There is a growing number of companies, especially startups, that move to tropical places such as Bali or Phuket for the lower living costs and higher quality of life. Start Me Up, for example, has internship opportunities at startups based in emerging startup hubs abroad.
 

Looking for something broader than that? Global Placement has all sorts of internships all around the world from agriculture to telecommunication.
 

Study a language abroad

 

Have you always wanted to speak another language? Or be able to speak with some of your friends in a language that no one else understands? It has its uses when you’re around English speakers, I assure you (I’m Dutch).
 

Or maybe you’ve always wanted to speak a language which might be helpful for your career later on? There are plenty of reasons why you should acquire a foreign tongue, so to speak.
 

There are different ways that you can go about doing this. You can apply for a program such as the ones from Study AbroadCIEEGoAbroad or Languages Abroad or go to a country, make friends and carry a notebook around and write down the words that you hear. A third option is applying for universities that offer language courses which can sometimes give you an extra grade which saves time later on in Uni (depending on which school and program you’re enrolled in).
 

Do a course

 

Enrolling on a course can be very beneficial for future job prospects or for your application for Uni. It shows that you’re truly interested in the subject and will give you a lead over other students. Courses are often more specialized than a study in a university which makes it a great opportunity to find out whether the path that you want to take is actually right for you.
 

You can take a course at a university or a company teaching skills from knitting to digital marketing.
 

Live among a totally different culture

 

Always dreamed about ancient tribes such as the Goroka, huge cities like Shanghai or colorful ceremonies like in Bali? Spending a month or more among a totally different culture than your own will most definitely change your perspective of the world and might teach you some valuable life lessons.
 

“The general experience of “being in a new and different environment” was the most meaningful element of the overall gap year experience” according to the American Gap Year Association
 

Try living alongside the locals and see what they do in their daily lives, try new food and join in some ceremonies, learn about a new religion and make new friends. You can easily combine this with all of the above but you won’t need any program to do this. The most important is to be curious and open minded, ask questions, join in their routines and learn from what they do differently.

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