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?