Note from Katie: I first read Tales of a Female Nomad when I was a senior in high school. I couldn't imagine a life of travel like Rita described, and I actually plucked up the courage to write my first-ever letter to an author, telling this world traveler that I would love to have such experiences but that I wouldn't ever be able to, since my fear of sitting alone at a high school cafeteria table clearly showed that I didn't have what it takes to travel alone in the world. Rita wrote back, saying that it's a completely different kind of courage and that she believed I would find it in me to travel. It turns out she's right, and I have, and she is now on a mission to inspire many thousands of young people to do the same.
And now, today's guest post from Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World.
Join the Gap Year Movement
I’m hoping everyone reading this will print it out and give it to every student you know...from middle schoolers through high schoolers . You could change their lives in a wonderful way.
To middle and high school students: DO A GAP YEAR!
It could be the most important decision you’ll ever make!
A what? A Gap Year....it’s the year after you graduate from high school before you go on to college, job, or military...a year (or even a few months) when you go off to another country and figure out who you are and what the world is all about. It’s a chance to test yourself in the real world without parents, teachers, preachers telling you what to do. A year when you’re on your own for the first time in your life. At 17 or 18, you’re more than ready to think for yourself!
I’ve been traveling the world for 27 years....with no permanent home and hardly any possessions. I’ve lived in dirt huts in the jungle of New Guinea and in a royal palace on the island of Bali. I’ve made friends with baby orangutans in Borneo and sat yards away from blue-footed boobies doing a mating dance in the Galapagos Islands. I’ve cooked and laughed with Mayan people in Guatemala and danced the tango in the street in Argentina.
The welcome and warmth I’ve gotten from total strangers whose language I don’t even speak has taught me to trust (myself and others) and brought me JOY...which is a pulsating happiness that has me wanting to jump up and down while shouting, LOOK AT ME!
My passion is to make the same thing happen to you during your Gap Year. The experience will put you far ahead of the students who stayed home and went straight into college or jobs. They will get more classrooms, more lectures, more exams. You will get an experiential year connecting you with people all over the world. Your GAP YEAR will dramatically alter how you see that world...and your fellow humans, wherever they may live.
For the rich? No. There’s a lot of help out there. And lots of different ways to raise the money. There are scholarships, programs linked to colleges, and even government-sponsored programs. Do some research when no one is looking; and when you’re fairly knowledgeable, sit your parents down and tell them you have a plan. Think of ways to raise money on your own. I promise: a Gap Year will change your life. It will send joy pulsing through you. When you get home, you’ll be much readier to start college!
And when you return, people will see that joy and pride in your eyes; they will hear the passion in your voice. That year in another culture—especially if it’s in the developing world—will give you the confidence and perspective that you need to be a leader in your own country. And it might turn you into an addicted traveler forever. I highly recommend the addiction!
And last, you will come home caring about other people, connecting with the immigrants in your own country...and inviting foreign strangers into your home as they invited you! And you will discover that your eyes, your heart, your soul have all opened up to a larger, more expansive world.
And do check out: www.americangap.org. There’s a ton of intriguing information on the site. The executive director, Ethan Knight, is in the process of certifying programs so that you and your parents know that the program you choose meets certain standards. There are also facts and statistics on the site that will give you some practical reasons for doing that Gap Year. (No one has ever accused me of being practical.....so I suggest you check out the site.)
It’s all about building awareness, compassion, understanding, and respect in you and your fellow Gappers, the leaders of tomorrow...and about finding out who you are and what you want to do with your life.
A Gap Year will put you way ahead of the students who went straight into college. (You can apply to college in your senior year, get accepted, and then ask for a deferral.
A Gap Year movement in the country will spur the creation of innovative thinkers and produce a population with a conscience.
A Gap Year movement will have a huge social impact on every citizen, on the country, and on the world!
So....DO A GAP YEAR!!
Many thanks to Rita for contributing to my blog! I truly hope that all students take the opportunity to travel while they're still young. As Rita says, travel will help you know who you are and what you want to do with your life.
I also want to just say again what an honor it is to have Rita write a guest post for this blog. She became a personal hero of mine when I was 17, and an inspiration for some of the most foundational and joyful decisions of my life. If you haven't read her book, please do so! And if you're teetering on the edge of a long-term travel decision, please do yourself the favor and take the plunge.