I was in Boston at the annual American Gap Association conference, where the question was posed to us, “What do you think are the necessary ingredients for a high quality gap year experience?”
After spending time with over 40 gap year providers, working on our accreditation process with AGA, and spending 1,000’s of hours with our students and their parents, I think I can boil it down to 3 critical ingredients for a flavorful gap year.
Any experiential learning based program has to account for the inherent risk involved in such an experience. After 15 years of outdoor adventure camping, 10 years of international travel programming, and 6 years of gap year planning, we have developed a highly sophisticated model of risk assessment and crisis response.
Safety can never be a promise from any program provider. But a culture of responsibility, foresight, monitoring, and evaluation can be the best preventative to account for a student’s care while on a gap year. I believe Kivu Gap Year has a thorough plan for welcoming students into environments that push them outside their comfort zone, but not into dangerous or irresponsible situations. From registering with the US Embassy, to having international insurance coverage, to having effective orientations, to maintaining thoughtful relationships in these local communities, we are confident that a student can experience the stress and challenge of life in an unfamiliar place with responsible assessment of risk.
When the gap year concept caught wind here in the United States, there was a particular need amongst both parents and students to ensure it did not become a year of partying around the world. Both parents and students wanted a purposeful experience. With that purpose comes structure.
Kivu Gap Year structures the learning experience around home stays, internships, cultural events, teaching in the field, mentorship, and cohort support. We believe these 6 areas provide a meaningful program for students to gain purpose and discover their passions while traveling. Our students log up to 900 internship hours working with multiple organizational cultures. They have to learn to navigate duties and responsibilities alongside cultural nuances and language barriers. They have to accept where their limitations are and have to learn to contribute where they are able inside an organization. The uncomfortableness of these environments pushes them towards growth outcomes we have come to recognize as patterns in our alumni.
After several years of gap year programming, people often asked our Kivu staff and students, “what did you get out of that experience?” Our alumni quickly found how difficult it is to wrap your words around such powerful experiences and stories captured on a gap year. So we launched an internal Impact Assessment in May of 2015 in order to find out from our alumni, “What did you learn from participating in the Kivu Gap Year?”
Through personal interviews and general surveys, we found 6 Core Competencies our students were developing. What our students talked about more than anything else was the developing of their Emotional Intelligence or EQ. (See article The Most Significant Growth Component). Students also vocalized growth in Cultural Intelligence (CQ) as well as Faith Ownership. Since the uniqueness of our program is to provide faith-based students with a space to process their spiritual development, we saw this feedback as a critical component of our program values in helping emerging young adults own what it is they believe.
These 3 areas of Safety, Structure, and Outcome are my ingredients to a great gap year! If you can find a provider that is able to effectively articulate this recipe to their programs, you should be confident that your investment into a gap year is more than worth the while. If you are designing your own independent gap year, these 3 components will suit you well. Know that the year won’t be easy. It will certainly be full of peaks and valleys. But the growth that comes from living in this ‘stretch zone‘ is what makes a gap year what it is!