There are many benefits of taking a gap year after completing 12 consecutive years of formal education in the classroom. For students to fully recognize these benefits however, there should be purpose and meaning behind gap year plans and most importantly, a gap year can’t be a blip on the radar, isolated and disconnected from life afterwards. On the contrary, a gap year offers such potential for growth and learning because it provides a jumping off point that can be integrated into a students’ next steps in many different ways.
One example of this integration lies in the broader connections between the relationships, perspectives and concepts explored on a gap year and how students choose to continue learning, engaging with the world around them and living their lives afterwards. Capacities like critical thinking and questioning are perfect examples of these broader connections, as they easily integrate into any field of study or career after a gap year and will greatly enhance a student’s ability to excel. So while we do offer focused units of study on Thinking Beyond Borders programs like environmental sustainability, each of our units explores broad concepts that relate to every single human being on the planet in some form or another, making them relevant and meaningful both to students hoping to continue studying environmental issues and others who will move on to study something else.
Washington, DC Culmination Week
Perhaps the most concrete integration to post-gap life we have designed on our programs lies within each program culmination in Washington DC, which is one week in length for semester programs and three weeks for our full-year program. There are several reasons why this addition is helpful to our students.
The first being that, in order to solidify meaning behind their travels abroad, it’s important for students to re-enter the United States in an intentional way. Time and space are needed for students to process what they are feeling throughout that sometimes jarring transition and to articulate what they have experienced, so our Program Leaders guide students through a re-entry curriculum to help them readjust to life back in the US and cope with the stresses of reverse culture shock.
The second reason for this culmination period is that it allows TBB students to connect and apply what they’ve learned while abroad to their lives back home, as we know that these connections are vital to making learning meaningful and relevant to each individual. Our programs have an underlying focus on movements for change and international development, so Washington DC and the many international organizations that call it home, provide an ideal backdrop for our students to hear firsthand from the people working on the frontlines of change. Throughout the week, our students meet with representatives from organizations like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the USDA, the Center for Global Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Environmental Protection Agency, and smaller grassroots organizations, to learn about the work they engage in everyday to create change on multiple levels around the world and to hear about how those representatives got into this work in the first place. These conversations transform the many seminar discussions our students have participated in over the course of the program and all of a sudden, everything starts to feel a bit more tangible.
TBB students also get to visit with representatives from an organization called Results, which supports and trains everyday citizens to stand up for issues they care about. This is an important meeting for our students, because on their final day in DC, they travel to Capitol Hill to meet with their political representatives in person. In many ways, these meetings are the embodiment of TBB’s mission, as they allow students to share what they’ve learned while abroad, to put theory into practice by exercising their voices and advocating for issues they are passionate about.
In many ways, TBB’s program culmination solidifies our students’ gap year experiences as an integral part of their lives after returning home. It also helps our students take the first step toward leading lives of informed social action, and this will serve them well regardless of what they choose to pursue in their next steps.