Gap Year Volunteering: How You Can Give Back While on Break
- Why Take a Volunteering Gap Year?
- Key Questions to Ask When Planning Your Volunteer Gap Year
- When is the Best Time to Go on a Volunteer Gap Year?
- 10 of the Best Volunteering Gap Year Programs
- Spotlight on Colleges that Encourage Volunteer Gap Years
- How to Find Ethical Volunteering Gap Year Opportunities
- Making the Most Out of Your Volunteering Gap Year
- Interview with a Gap Year Advisor (Featuring Marion Taylor)
- Recommended Resources for Planning a Volunteering Gap Year
Interview with a Gap Year Advisor – Marion Taylor, MSW – Gap Year Advisor
Marion Taylor is accredited by the Gap Year Association and a current board member. She has been working for 10 years as a gap year counselor combining her social work background (MSW), her parenting perspective (all four of her children participated in gap experiences), and her own gap year experiences pre- and post-college and throughout the course of her adult life, both as a gapper and as an advisor vetting gap program with visits in the field. She serves as keynote speaker at high schools, colleges, and gap year fairs and enjoys working with students of all ages from all economic backgrounds and orientations.
Can you talk a little about the increasing popularity of volunteering gap years for U.S. students?
Given the fact that over 3,000 colleges in America now allow deferments for a gap year, and that countless other universities now include a gap semester as part of their freshman year, gap year participation has certainly increased. However, European and South Pacific countries still seem to have a higher number of students taking a gap year over American students. The Gap Year Association saw a huge increase in gap year interest the spring that Malia Obama decided to take a gap year deferring her entrance into Harvard. Compared to 1974-75 when I took my own gap year, gap years are now considered more of an opportunity for growth through experiential learning rather than a “year off” or alternative option to secondary education. I credit my college for having the insight to encourage me to move forward with my gap year, as I was much more focused on my studies at college upon arrival and I am certain did much better academically. Interest in volunteering has also increased in high schools, due in part to the required community service hours and to parents identifying service as a way to augment and diversify their childrens’ transcripts for college. But I also think that young students truly want to learn and be exposed to other cultures through travel, community immersion, and learning service. As a gap advisor, I encourage students to live with a family in a homestay to truly understand how the majority of the world lives outside of the U.S.
What are some of the most common projects for students on volunteer gap years?
Some of the most common projects that students (ages 18-19) participate in include: wilderness programs, language immersion, travel-community service-homestay-language 3 month programs, environmental /marine conservation, and community service with women’s empowerment projects, with school children, elderly, and justice projects.
What advice do you have for students about planning their volunteering gap year experiences?
My best advice is for students to talk to former gap students and or adults who have taken a gap experience – whatever it was. Ask them what they learned about themselves and about life; what mistakes they made; and how the gap experience impacted their education, professional choices, and values. Then I encourage students to attend a gap year fair in one of the 45 cities across the U.S. during January and February in order to visit and talk with staff and alumni participants from the gap program. If a student feels overwhelmed by the fairs and/or by Googling “gap year”, then seek out the expertise of a gap year counselor, who has years of experience working with gap students, as well as vetting of gap programs in the field, in order to assist and guide with planning. Gap programs begin to fill up between March-July prior to the fall, so it is best to narrow one’s choices in the spring and early summer. But I always emphasize how important it is to make sure it is the right “fit” based on the students’ passions, interests, and goals.
What tips do you have for students to make the most out of their volunteering gap year?
My most important tip is to keep an open mind and remain flexible. It is really important to go with the mindset of learning, not “helping” or “saving.” At 18 and 19 years old, most students do not have the skillset to go into a community and make a difference. It is best to live with a family, learn about their values and culture, and observe differences and problems. This exposure and awareness-raising can set a student up for more focused learning in college with specific areas of study based on their gap year experiences. It is helpful to have some goals in mind, so that a student can work towards achieving those, such as becoming more proficient in a language, acquiring a skill such as PADI or WFR certification, learning about urgent issues such as climate change, human trafficking, malnutrition, and deforestation. Most students this age want to be with their peers, and I find most learn a lot about themselves during these challenging and life-changing gap experiences.