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Volunteering while on a gap year

In some parts of the world, taking a gap year is a rite of passage. Especially popular for young people the year before beginning college or university, a gap year is essentially the opportunity to take a year off from your regular day-to-day life, a temporary departure from your educational or career trajectory. Indeed, adults of all ages take gap years as an opportunity to reassess their career interests, try new professional paths (for example, a lawyer who spends six months teaching), or simply take time for themselves.

Many individuals spend their gap year traveling the globe while others focus on educational or philanthropic activities. And then there are those who bring the two together to spend their year off in service to others, some as part of a national service program and others by volunteering in a community abroad. To learn more about why spending your gap year volunteering in another country might be a good use of your time, check out this list of potential benefits to the volunteer.

Planning to serve on your gap year

Whether you decide to spend your entire gap year as an international volunteer—either as a long-term volunteer in one location or a short-term volunteer in several—or choose to incorporate volunteering abroad as only part of your gap year experience, you'll likely follow several of the same preparation steps already outlined in this resource center, including exploring different ways to volunteer, considering the ethics of service, weighing the costs, and determining whether to go with a volunteer-sending organization or head out on your own. However, an added wrinkle is, just as there are several different types of volunteer-sending organizations, there are also organizations specifically catering to those taking a gap year, offering three- to twelve-month long volunteer abroad programs and opportunities. So if you decide to go with a volunteer-sending organization, you may want to also check out those organizations that focus on gap year experiences.

To find gap year programs and organizations, follow the same steps we recommend for finding a volunteer-sending organization, plus, when searching for volunteer-sending organizations and programs on and via a general internet search engine, also try using the keywords "gap year" (use quotes to filter your results).

Finally, to learn more about gap years, consider reading "Your Gap Year: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Year Out the Adventure of a Lifetime" by Susan Griffith (Crimson Publishing, 2008) or "Gap Years for Grown Ups" (Vacation Work, 2006) by the same author.