Alumni Spotlight: My Gap Year Taught Me to Take an Active Role in My Education

Shawn Childs, TBB’10,  is a University of Vermont alumna where she studied Environmental Studies and community-based International Development. In this interview, she discusses how her gap year prepared her for the demands of college life and currently shaping her professional choices.

What was it like volunteering in communities facing global issues?

The service projects that I was a part of while with TBB sparked a passion that has led me toShawn Childs pursue an undergraduate education in Environmental Studies and community-based International Development. I learned that working with the community is the most important part of any project, and one that is often times overlooked. There’s also a certain level of frustration that accompanies volunteering in communities facing global issues, which I may have expected before entering TBB but did not fully understand. There are cultural misunderstandings, financial limitations and a million tiny obstacles to overcome in any development job.  The most difficult part to swallow was simply not knowing how much is actually being accomplished. This overwhelming feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ can weigh on you at times — it takes commitment and a belief in your project, organization and ultimately yourself to continue. Continue reading

Alumni Spotlight: Taking a Gap Year Exposed Me to New Opportunities

TBB alumna, class of ’11, Rachel Jordan is a student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where she’s pursuing a major in Public Policy with minors in Medical Anthropology and Social Entrepreneurship. In this interview, Rachel talks about her love for travel, adventure and learning, and how a gap year gave her all three in one breathe. 

What inspired you to take a gap year?

Growing up, my mother told me bedtime stories about a trip she took to Europe one summer inRachel Jordan college. My grandfather, too, was an avid traveler. Throughout my childhood, he took my brothers and me on day trips around Atlanta and recounted his adventures sailing to Cuba and driving through Central America. I grew up with a desire to see the world, and I longed for adventure and change. In high school, I was a dedicated student. By the time I started preparing to apply to college, I felt burnt out. It seemed like part of myself had faded into the background amidst the endless mountain of papers and tests and heavy backpacks and sleepless nights that come with being a high-achieving high school student in the United States. I also took a class my senior year of high school that challenged me for the first time to think critically about social and economic inequality, and I wanted to learn more. So I loved traveling, I loved learning, and I wanted to change the world, but I felt that going straight to college was not going to adequately prepare me for the future that I wanted for myself. Continue reading

Alumni Spotlight: My Gap Year Showed Me How To Pave My Own Journey

Julia Jones, TBB’12, is a student of Syracuse University in New York, where she is studying International Relations. The impact of her gap year played an instrumental role in her personal and professional development. She shares her story on how it has shaped her till today. 

What do you think you gained from going on a gap year?

Julia JonesThis question is tough to answer briefly because so much of who I am today is due to the experiences and outlook on life that I gained from Thinking Beyond Borders. The world opened up to me—quite literally—and revealed endless examples of cultures, journeys, and livelihoods that I had very little knowledge of. Every day I was learning and absorbing my surroundings, sharing some of the most incredible memories with ten other students and three [program] leaders. I gained some of the greatest friends as well as connections to the people and places where we lived. In my life today, I seek adventure, culture, open-minded people, and every opportunity to make life better for someone else. I would never trade the gap year I spent with TBB because it has continued to impact every single day since. Continue reading

Alumni Spotlight: Gap Year Changed My Thinking Process

Emily Sanders, TBB’14, is a student of Metropolitan State University of Denver where she is studying Sociology. In this interview she discusses her experience, the intensity of gap year travel, and the intellectual stimulation she received on her gap year.

Gap year travel can be hectic, how did you prepare?

Emily SandersPreparing to leave for eight months is overwhelming, especially when you are going to live out of a 48 liter backpack and travel to many diverse locations and climates. I remember feeling like I didn’t know where to start. Luckily, a TBB gap year alum, Hannah Nelson, found a blog post I wrote announcing my acceptance to TBB’s gap year program and we connected on Facebook. Hannah was an amazing resource, she answered questions about packing, what to expect in home stays. She helped calm my nerves and reminded me to take it all one step at a time. It really helped to have someone to talk with who had been through the experience. Two girls from this current gap year group reached out to me on social media as they prepared to start their global gap year. They asked questions about packing and my experience, just like I did with Hannah! It’s been a great experience being able to help other TBBers feel more equipped to begin their TBB journey!  Continue reading

What Is It Like to Volunteer in a Community?

Gap Year Students Volunteering in EcuadorOn Thinking Beyond Border programs, one of the pathways to empowering students to become effective social change leaders is through practical experiences. The students go beyond just doing “service”, and instead get the chance to learn and do meaningful work alongside local experts. Engaging with issues including education, healthcare, environmental sustainability, poverty, and agriculture, TBB students actively become involved in host communities to help local organizations creating change and to increase their understanding of these critical issues.

Take a look at a range of students’ views on what this kind of volunteering meant to them during their gap year. Continue reading

Alumni Spotlight: I Learned to Value Relationships

Kaia Mann, TBB’14,  shares the lessons she gained from different cultures; the nature of her relationship with her host community, and what she would do differently if she could do it all again.   

What was your relationship like with your host family and community?

Kaia Mann, TBB'14

Kaia Mann, TBB’14

The home stays that I did made lasting impressions on me in each country.  I was able to create incredible relationships with my host families as well as with people in the surrounding communities. For example, in Ecuador, I lived with a family with three amazing young children who I enjoyed playing with all the time. They welcomed me into their home and into every part of their lives. Not only did I become a part of their immediate family, but I also found a strong community with my host father’s brothers, sister, and father, all of whom lived in the same compound. In India, I became close friends with my host sister and brother. I worked with my brother at school in the morning and saw my sister in the afternoon at the NGO Thinking Beyond Borders was partnered with. I was able to become part of their family while also experiencing their day to day lives. Continue reading

How is TBB Learning Different from High School?

Learning on a TBB gap year program is a fusion of fieldwork with experts, deepGap Year Experiential Learning cultural immersion, and meaningful discussions all backed by a powerful curriculum. Unlike a traditional classroom education, students have the opportunity to engage in a learning environment designed to help them better understand critical global issues, think about solutions they want to see in the world, and prepare for successful careers that create meaningful change. They gain practical knowledge and experience on global issues and develop skills that lead to self discovery.

Let’s look at students’ first hand perspectives on how this learning impacted them: Continue reading

Alumni Spotlight: Taking a Risk on Myself on My Gap Year

Mary Bryan, TBB’11, is a student of Tulane University. In this interview, she gives insight into her experience working in communities facing global challenges; what she achieved, and how her gap year influenced her choice of study in college.

What did you take away from working with your peers?

Mary Bryan (L) with fellow alumni Rachel Jordan (R)

Mary Bryan (L) with fellow alumni Rachel Jordan (R)

One of my Program Leaders on the trip always referred to our group as a ‘nomadic family’ and I think that’s pretty accurate. The support structure that I had in my group was vital to surviving the challenging aspects of the program, and I learned to recognize when I needed support as well as when I could support others. I learned to embrace differences of perspective, but I also learned how to boldly state my opinions about the things I was passionate about. I learned how traveling brings out the best and worst in people. Continue reading

Take Your Gap Year Travel to The Next Level

Traveling abroad for your gap year not only offers rejuvenation, but a unique and powerful learning environment for personal development and growth. Unlike taking a vacation, gap year travel is difficult to do successfully because it’s easy for it to be a series of tourist stops and lack meaningful cultural engagement and learning that should prepare you as you transition to college.

Here are three keys to keep in mind to ensure you get value from your trip: Continue reading

Alumni Spotlight: My Gap Year Inspired Me to Start a Social Enterprise

Silvanio Valdez, TBB’10, is currently at Miami University completing his Master’s degree in Financial Economics. In this interview, he shares his inspiration to start a social enterprise after his gap year; how he managed business and college, and his future plans in International Development.  

How did your gap year prepare you for business and college?

Silviano Valdez, TBB'10 and Social Entrepreneur

Silviano Valdez, TBB’10 and
Social Entrepreneur

TBB’s curriculum gave my college studies purpose and direction.  I still remember our heated class discussions on the best ways to implement green energy initiatives, whether to privatize water rights, the real returns for investing in a girl’s education, and what development really means. We also had the chance to meet representatives from multinational governmental organizations. These classroom debates and meetings affirmed my decision to major in economics. My first semester freshman year, I asked my economics professor what I needed to do to become a successful economist. His advice lead me to take more math and statistics classes, do research with the McNair Scholars Program, and attend the American Economic Association Summer Training Program. These were all time intensive activities, but knowing that I was doing this to prepare myself for a career in international development made it a lot easier. Gaining purpose and direction allowed me to take full advantage of the opportunities at my college. Continue reading