If you think gap years are all about drinking and killing brain cells you might have to rethink your whole understanding of the concept. The truth is that you can learn loads of new skills by taking some time off studying and exploring the world lurking outside the classrooms, a place most of us, sadly enough, don’t dedicate enough time to. But we should.
1. Learn to master a strange unknown language
Image courtesy ofMichael Davis-Burchat
Learning a new language might be the obvious first choice on the list, but there is a reason for that. Being able to communicate with people in different countries broadens your understanding of their culture and can benefit you in your future. Imagine becoming fluent in Mandarin Chinese? Or become a master of a tribe language from Africa? Cool, right?
2. Gain a better cultural understanding
Image courtesy of Sarah Ireland,Ethiopia Teaching & CommunityProject
Most people spend their lives reading about different continents and cultures without having the opportunity to experience them first-hand. Cultural differences often lead to misunderstandings and if we are to believe the media, some cultures are destructive, primitive and even dangerous. But is it so? By embarking on your own journey you get the chance to answer that question yourself and immerse yourself in an entirely different way of living. Being knowledgeable about countries and their traditions can be a valuable skill in a work place as well as a university. Your sight will get clearer and suddenly there are no narrow lanes with only one direction: the world with turn into a roundabout, a place where everything is possible.
3. Become an expert of body language
Image courtesy ofJlhopgood
Well, you might be one of those people who just struggle with learning languages. Words and grammar do not come natural to you - and if you are honest with yourself you are actually more of a math geek. So what do you do? The answer is simple: you open your eyes and start to see the world in a new way. Our bodies reveal things about the way we feel, even more than most of us realise. Two strangers can communicate without words and after a bit of practice, the non-verbal conversations will start flowing.
4. Learn to be yourself and get of your anxieties
Image courtesy of Sophie Stockill, FrontierSouth East Asia Ethical Adventure Trailproject
Not everyone feels at one with themselves, especially not as young. You might have had a hard time in school facing bullies or low self-esteem, but travelling can help you grow out of it and learn to see yourself in a new way. Sometimes getting away from our usual environment can be deliberating.
5. Find out what happiness is all about
Image courtesy of FrontierThailand Free Teaching Placementproject
Happiness is an ideal portrayed in various ways across the globe. Mistakenly, many people assume that their happiness relies on social status and material goods, but it all comes down to your state of mind. During a gap year abroad you have the chance to live in the moment and find yourself: climb a mountain and take in the view, experience the joy of nature and get used to enjoy the simple things earth has to offer. Sometimes the man-made world just doesn’t give us what we truly need.
6. Expand your geographical knowledge
Image courtesy ofEric Fischer
The round globe is a rotating nightmare if you don’t know how to identify the different countries. It can be confusing getting to know new cities and towns in places most people haven’t heard of, but imagine what a champion you would be in a trivial pursuit game? During a gap year you could spend time memorizing all the capital cities around the world.
7. Find your true calling
Image courtesy of Emily Zenselmeiner, FrontierPeru Amazon Rainforest ConservationProject
Does it sound like a cliché? Perhaps, but they become so for a reason. Taking time out from studying is a good way of figuring out what you really want to do with your life and prevent yourself from following in someone else’s footsteps rather than making your own. Volunteering abroad can open the doors to a world of new opportunities, so what are you waiting for?
8. Learn to live without material goods
Image courtesy ofEladeManu
The hippies got some things right, didn’t they? Travelling around the world and living in development countries definitely puts your life into perspective. Learning to live a simple lifestyle without a shopaholic’s urge to constantly seek the thrill of swiping their credit card is the best thing you can possible do. Consumerism can be good from time to time, but most people buy a lot of thing they don’t need. Don’t be greedy. Just enjoy a walk in the forest and lay down on the grass with the sun on your face – it’s more rewarding than buying a new pair of shoes and a gap year could tech you just that!
9. Become an expert on wildlife
Image courtesy of Tom Benson, FrontierMadagascar Wildlife Conservation AdventureProject
If you spend your gap year travelling there is a big chance that you will visit the jungle at some point. Some people end up loving the wild so much that they just throw themselves at the tricky task of being a wildlife survivor that knows endless facts about various species around the world. Do you want to be one of them? Who knows, you might end up taking the knowledge with you to university and become a true researcher.
10. Let go of all fear: Travelling makes you braver
Image courtesy of FrontierBolivia Experienceproject
Being away from home does something to people. The shy girl who never dared speaking up in her primary school is suddenly flying down a volcano on a board screaming out loud with no thought of the day tomorrow. Suddenly we find ourselves signing up for various adrenaline junky activities and talk to strangers on the street – travelling brings back childish curiosity.
So what is your reason for taking a gap year and what will you be doing? Will you be trekking through theMalagasy jungle, diving deep into blueBelizean exotic seas, walking through crowdedSouth East Asian markets? Whatever your heart wishes, you can do!
Caroline Edwards is an Online Media Intern for Frontier, a non-profit conservation NGO that helps people plan their gap year with over 300 opportunities to volunteer abroad and take part in adventure travel across the globe. Read more about Frontier on their blog, Into the Wild, or on Facebook or Twitter.