6 Common Results of a Kivu Gap Year Graduate


When we launched the Kivu Gap Year in 2009, the most often asked question was “what is a gap year?” Today, when we travel and meet prospective students and parents, the most common question is “What are the results of the gap year for your graduating students?”

When I would ask our alumni this question, it was always overwhelming to them.  The question was simply too big to tackle.  Where do you start and how do you give language to an 8 month global journey around the world?  So when I launched an Impact Assessment on our past alumni last spring of 2015, the goal was to see if (1) students had any correlations with what they learned in our program and (2) to see if I could help them provide unified language to articulate the experience.

Through interviews and questionnaires, I came to discover 6 areas of general interest:

  • Socio-Emotional Competence-How we relate to and manage ourselves and our relationship to others. 
  • Cultural Competence–How we adapt (or fail to adapt) to culturally diverse environments.
  • Faith Ownership & Integration–How we make our faith our own (rather than that of our parents) and include this value in every aspect of our lives (rather than compartmentalizing it).
  • Family & Belonging–How we value our nuclear family and our connectedness to global humanity.
  • Justice & Compassion–Developing the eyes to see and the ears to hear voices on the margins, to enter their pain, and stand in solidarity with them.
  • Passion & Calling–Giving space to hear our vocation and to embrace the beauty of being made in God’s image.

What is even more surprising is how interdependent these 6 areas of growth were with one another.  Students would freely flow in and out of conversation with how one aspect informed the other.  I came to understand this to mean all 6 of these ‘Core Competencies’ were building off one another.  In a program filled with internships, home stays, weekly cultural events, instructional ‘class’ time, on-going mentorship, and the influence of fellow gap students, it is a perfect recipe to see God work in amazing and surprising ways in each heart and life.

Traditional higher education is giving students the information they need to succeed in the real world.  But a non-traditional education, like a gap year, can effectively supplement higher learning with the ‘intangibles’ necessary to grow into young adulthood.  At Kivu Gap Year, our students are able to work on the development of the whole person.  We are able to equip students with the soft skills and the real world experience (900 hours of internship work) to empower them to lead in their careers, in their future families, and in their faith communities.

We are developing young leaders who have confidence in their own voice.  With this confidence, students can enter (or re-enter) university life with a sharp focus, a wealth of experience, and a humility and passion to further their learning.




The Most Significant Growth Component


Last year, I spent time with our last 5 years of alumni conducting interviews and questionnaires to investigate the question, “what do students learn from participating in our gap year program?”  While I found several consistent correlations in student growth, the one thing almost everyone wanted to talk about was how much they learned about growing in self-awareness.

Academics refer to it as socio-emotional competence.  Or perhaps you’ve heard of the importance of developing your EQ (emotional intelligence).  EQ is about learning more of who we are, how we are wired, and how we relate to others in the process.  Socrates called on his students to ‘know thyself’.  For followers of Jesus, we know that each human being is made in the image of God and fashioned in his likeness.  So it is critical that we know the uniqueness of our created design.

When I asked one student about the most significant change experienced in the program, she said, “Right away I would say personal growth and just understanding who I am. Learning the ways I’ve been uniquely wired and gifted…I think I left gap year with more of a sense of confidence in myself, my gifts, and my passions. And confidence in Jesus. Definitely, that would be a huge one.” Another student shared, “They did a very good job of teaching me more about who I was. What makes me tick. What encourages me and discourages me. What I am passionate about. Through learning more about my personality I feel like I can better handle challenges. I know that this is going to be a hard time. I know how to take care of myself.”  Students also captured this aspect of growth with words and phrases like “confidence”, “sure of self”, “knowing who God created me to be”, “more mature”, “taking care of myself”, “equipping yourself”, “understanding yourself”, “understanding who I am”, “reformed my identity”.

Emerging adulthood is a critical time period for students (ages 18-25) to work on the establishment of their personal identity.  They are asking at a very deep level, “Who am I?”.  The exploration of this question helps students gain direction for their future.  We use the word ‘vocation’ a lot in our program.  From its latin root, it actually translates to ‘voice’ or ‘calling’.  We are dedicated to helping students find their voice during their year with us because this is a critical stage for such growth to take place.

Our program facilitates numerous ways of allowing students to explore who they are.  We provide formal training with devices like Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Relational Needs Training, and further exercises in self-reflection, journaling, and blogging.  But we also encourage students to go out and do stuff, to intern in multiple new environments, to live in local home stays, to experience the world, and see what passions come to life.  Our students spend nearly 900 hours in internship experiences.  Through the relationships they build in these experiences, they come to realizations of their unique design and giftedness.  Experiential learning is one of the best ways to discover one’s own voice.

If you want to know the #1 benefit of taking a gap year with Kivu, our alumni will tell you it is that critical component of honing in on personal identity or self-awareness.  It is about taking time to stare in the face the daunting question, “Who am I?”.  From a deeper understanding of who we are, we can be free to explore the hard questions of what we should do, what degree we should have, what we believe about our faith, and what career to pursue in the future.

But without direction, college students today are left wandering through degrees that carry no meaning.  The result has been wasted tuition dollars on 5 to 6 year undergraduate studies with a mere 60% undergraduate completion rate!

How can one pursue a degree without the backbone of direction before completing college?

Why a Gap Year?

While searching for a Gap Year, it can be kind of like walking into a huge department store trying to find a specific item for your home.  There’s so many places to look, so many differences to set different gap years apart, and whose to say you’re going to have the “right” program for your student?

At The KIVU Gap Year, we try to help our parents and students understand some of the differences we hold in our value system to prepare emerging adults to enter University.


1.  Personal Identity:  Who Am I? – We give you the tools and experiences to encourage the development of your personal identity.

The old way of talking about Who am I was to say a student would go and “find themselves.”  And many academic circles tried to minimalize this experiencing often citing the need for students to just jump into life straight from high school and they will figure it out.  

But after 20 years of working with young adults, we’re finding some interesting generational differences in today’s young person.

a.)  After University, work becomes the epicenter of their life.  They get lost in the drive for their Vocation, and we see students who are in their late 20’s asking questions about Who they are not necessarily What they do.  We’re finding a large group of young adults asking questions we can help them navigate through their higher education which presumably leads to a more fulfilling vocational experience.

b.)  We find more and more University graduates unwilling and unable to enter the workforce after their higher education training, and we want to help students achieve the courageous brave life to go out and conquer whatever it is they feel called to do.  The problem is: if we just hope students find their way without any help or mentoring, often it takes years to find out who they are and emerge from what they can produce.  

2.  Faith Ownership: What Do I Believe? – We provide an experience in which you have the space, freedom and opportunity to embrace your faith.

Most Gap Years will fall on two extremes of a paradigm shift.  Either they will a.) Bring students into an incubation environment to tell them what to think or they will b.) Leave faith out of the conversation entirely.

We believe a faith journey is one that is individual.
We believe faith is an important part of being a whole person.
We believe experiential faith education is more impactful than sitting in a classroom taking notes, submitting papers, and memorizing various scripture passages.
We believe asking questions will lead a student to their answer.
Because we believe God works in different ways in everyone’s life.

We intentionally give students an environment to explore their faith.  They ask good questions.  We’re not afraid of any doubts, because we believe on an honest journey students will find their faith way.  With qualified staff leading and guiding discussions, we are excited when students graduate to be excited about faith in a global community.

3.  Experiential Learning: How Do I Fit In? – We provide an experiential learning environment to counter balance traditional education models.

So many students today are lost in how they connect with the world around them.  They’re able to engage online, but interpersonal connection is often difficult.  We’ve trained a generation of students to care more about the number of “likes” and “followers” on a social media feed, but we haven’t given them a fertile platform to explore ideas, disagree in a civil way, and engage with people who are different than they are.

Our Emotional Intelligence scale reveals that the KIVU Gap Year can increase the way students engage emotionally by living abroad to the tune of nearly a 30% increase.  The EI scale we use to test students is showing our kids able to navigate the traditional education model and still have a sense of fitting into their environment.

4.  Civic Engagement: Where Do I Belong? – We provide concrete experiences in understanding domestic and international social issues to encourage you to develop communal identity.

If you ask the question What is the biggest issue with post-secondary students today? You’ll find quickly the answer is I’m Alone.

They don’t know where they connect.
They don’t know who they belong to.
They don’t understand community is something to sacrifice for
They haven’t been given the wide kaleidoscope of global world views to understand themselves.

At The KIVU Gap Year, we are committed to helping students understand how they belong in a wide globalized world, preparing them for Higher Education.

After 6 years of intense research, we are ready for you and your student.  Check out our work at http://www.kivugapyear.com


Gap Year’s For Todays Students

As the world continues to get smaller through our intentional technology revolution, students are going to be hard pressed to connect with different cultures, different world views, and the ability to connect with different thought processes.

Different Cultures

There’s little debate concerning the globalization of today’s companies.  Most of the top U.S. companies have a footprint of business, education, or at the very least a social impact on different countries around the world.

In today’s Secondary Education climate, very few of our students are being exposed to the ways to form successful small groups where the diversity of culture has to be addressed to actually accomplish a common goal.

On the KIVU Gap Year, we have taken the task of exposing students to various cultures both here in America, and across the world.


Our student shave the chance to stay with local families in foreign countries.  Whether they have a stay in Africa, Peru, Bolivia, or the Jordan, students have the chance to learn cultural diversity to give them a chance to understand future potential cultural relationships no matter where they intend on spending their vocational time.  Our intent is to help students understand what it means to deal with different expectations dependent on cultural diversity, and we’re actually seeing their worlds get smaller and smaller.

They are able to talk about politics, social differences, and see opportunities to connect America to different parts of the world.  This is vital as we see a generation of students whose world continues to shrink as they forge ahead to live and work in places with high degrees of cultural diversity.


Different World Views

It’s safe to say with 7 Billion people on planet earth, there are almost as many different world views students need to learn how to navigate.  Values that matter include…

Where they were born
What values were important to their families
What faith components they believe in
What social values are high on the list of their world

Each way our environment speaks into who we are dictates what lens we see the world through.  Traditionally, America has a reputation of seeing the world through the lens of the last great super power.  So the questions begin to rise quickly to the surface

What is my role in the world as an American Citizen?
How do I interact with other countries and how they see the world?
What is my role in understanding someone else’s world view, and being able to value my own way of thinking?

As more and more students are leaving home to attend University life, it’s imperative they are able to navigate their own worldview in the confluence of world views they will be exposed to, even right there at home.


Different Social Impact

In America, we have two oceans on either side of our country that insulate much of our thinking from the rest of the world.  In Africa, it’s normal to see a high social value given to the family, while our sense of family may vary from region to region.

In the Middle East there are different social norms put on gender, where here in America we strive to create equality the name of the gender game.

In South America, there are certain social ways of interacting with a culture long created by the colonization of the European Catholic societies mixed with the native groups.  While here in America, there is an amalgam of cultures all trying to live and work together in a “melting pot” that centers on the question of What does it mean to be American?

As students are exposed to different social norms, we invite them to explore the reasons why societies are different, and how they can integrate in those social groups depending on their circumstances.

All in all, when a student Graduates from the KIVU Gap Year, they are equipped with the tools to help them with Different Global Cultures, Different Global World views, and Different Social implications no matter where they live and work.