Living with families in homes around the world for 28 years has opened my heart and soul and mind. I know that if the U.S. had a population that interacted with other cultures, on a face-to-face level, we’d be a much more compassionate, respectful, and understanding country. And the interaction would bring us a lot closer to peace in the world.
The most important thing that happens to people who are lucky enough to immerse themselves in other cultures, is that they realize that people, wherever they are and whatever they look like, are really all the same. In every culture, people laugh and play and eat and pee. Tribal people in New Guinea who hunt with bows and arrows, royal families in Bali, Masai tribes in Tanzania smile and cry and sing. Like us, they love their children and share their food; they are sad when people die; and they are happy when they are dancing. And they are willing to share their cultures and homes with strangers. That’s you!
I’m passionate about encouraging high school students to take a year (or even a few months) after they finish high school to travel to other cultures. It’s called a Gap Year. People do it in England, Australia, New Zealand, Germany. Why not in the U.S.? There are plenty of programs. Check out: American Gap Association. AGA is certifying programs to assure parents of the safety of member programs. www.AmericanGap.org
There are lots of ways to fund that Gap Year…through work, scholarships, fundraising, and setting up a bank account when the student is still young, maybe even when a child is born (call it a GapAccount). Many colleges are happy to defer entry for a year; they know that students who have done an international Gap Year are more confident and motivated. A Gap Year gives students confidence and self-esteem….as well as respect and understanding of others. Employers also consider it an advantage to have employees who have experienced other cultures. It’s a win-win-win experience.
If the idea is relatively new and you don’t know what you think about it, have a look below. Which group are you in? I hope you will choose to change the world with me.
Don’t even think about doing an international Gap Year (or semester or month) if:
- You think learning can only take place in a classroom.
- It’s never occurred to you to question some of the rules that your parents and teachers have planted in you, such as: You have to go directly to college or a job once you graduate from high school (sort of like going to first grade after kindergarten.) Or, maybe you still believe another one of those rules from your childhood: Never talk to strangers.
- Your future is clear; you’re convinced that seeing the beauty, observing the wisdom, or experiencing the pain of poverty and the richness of life in traditional cultures would just get in the way of your goals.
- You can look at the tiny dot where you live on the world map, and you have no curiosity about all those other countries and ways of life out there.
- You’re certain about what you want to major in and what you want to do for the rest of your life, and your choice is based on knowing who you are and an awareness of the many different options that are out there.
- You’re afraid that if you are exposed to new ideas, you might be forced to question your beliefs.
- You’re convinced that a Gap Year is just for rich kids. You and your family can’t afford it!
On the other hand, if you like the idea of discovering what you and the world are all about, start saving and working and exploring the many different ways to do a Gap Year. Check out the programs and scholarships that are available to high school graduates. Get on board if:
- You think it’s time for a break from classroom learning.
- You’d like to explore the world and yourself a bit before you begin college or get a job.
- You’d like to connect with people who are different from you and learn about other ways of life.
- You’re not afraid of a little hard work to earn the money…or you’re willing to do some research to find a scholarship that will get you into a Gap Year program.
- You want to contribute to peace and understanding in the world; and you know that in order to do that, you have to get to know that world, firsthand.
- You’d like to find out who you are when you’re on your own, responsible to yourself and not to parents and teachers.
- You are intrigued by the challenge of crossing borders, the experience of tackling difficult situations, and the independence of thinking for yourself.
- When you look at the tiny dot where you live, you know that you are cheating yourself if that’s all you ever experience. You believe that first-hand experience of another culture will be very different from reading about it in a book.
- You know that most employers and many colleges these days consider it an advantage to accept young people who have experienced the world beyond academics and national borders.
- You’re not afraid to research the options and figure it all out.
- And finally, you know that if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.
Now then, I have planted a seed in all of you that I hope it will grow into a lifetime addiction to travel and adventure and openness to others. The joy in life is all about connecting!! Happy journey.
Love, Rita Golden Gelman
Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World
Photo credits: Unsplash