GoAbroad's Top Picks for Malia Obama's Gap Year

by Elsa Thomasma

Gap year has become a buzzword over the past few weeks, with the announcement from the White House that Malia Obama will be postponing her studies at Harvard next fall so she can “take a gap year”. Though they have yet to divulge what Malia has planned for her year off, which isn’t surprising considering she hasn’t even officially graduated from high school yet, we are ready and willing to prepare her for what’s (and could possibly be) ahead.

Hence, below you’ll find GoAbroad’s top picks for Malia Obama’s gap year, hand-picked just for her, though they are pretty amazing programs that any aspiring “gap yearer” should check out:

Performing Arts Abroad - Support a Film Camp for At-Risk Youth in Belize

School children in Belize sitting on the grass outside their school

Though a little (okay, ALOT) off-the-beaten path in comparison to her recent internship in New York City on the set of the hit HBO series Girls, bringing her skills to at-risk youth in Belize will be heaps more rewarding (we’re guessing). With Malia’s background in drama and her interest in film, volunteering in Belize will no doubt be an adventure that will build both her personal and professional skills, and open her eyes to the struggles of youth in Belize.

The Intern Group - Gain Skills by Interning Abroad in London

intern sitting at a desk in the sunlight

Get a jumpstart on that resume!

Moving down a more traditional path, if that is what Malia is looking for, an internship in London could be just the right kick off to her gap year. With connections throughout the city (and even some throughout the world), The Intern Group can surely provide her with a film or media internship in London that will rival her past internship placements.

International Volunteer HQ - Contribute to Sports Education in Fiji

Bounty Island Beach, Fiji

Bounty Island Beach - Photo Credit: Sutisha Simluang

Who wouldn’t want to spend their gap year in the tropical paradise that is Fiji? Maybe it will be a bit farther from Washington D.C. than Daddy Barak would like, but I’m sure he wouldn’t be terribly off-put by the idea of a holiday in Fiji, right? Malia could take her athletic skills and vertical advantage to the Pacific islands to show local kids the importance of fitness and healthy fitness, by teaching them a range of sports.

Cross-Cultural Solutions - Experience a REAL Global Gap Year

three hikers heading into the mountains with their cameras

Grab your buddies, your camera, and just go.

Now for a truly global gap year, Cross-Cultural Solutions gives high school grads the opportunity to travel to not one, but three incredible destinations across three distinct continents; Peru, Tanzania, and India here we come! If seeing Machu Picchu, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Taj Mahal all in one year isn’t enough to convince Malia that this program is the perfect one for her, then the added cultural immersion activities, festivals, service work, and language lessons will surely push her past the tipping point.

New Zealand Internships - Complete a Professional Internship

Auckland city skyline

Shifting back to the “resume-booster” argument for taking a gap year abroad, or traveling abroad in general, completing an internship in New Zealand will keep Malia safe and sound during her gap year in a peaceful, English-speaking environment. Though again, Michelle and Barak may have to learn to deal with the distance, New Zealand has some great tourist sites and adventure activities for the whole family when they decide they need a break from D.C.

Love Volunteers - Become a Media Volunteer in Mongolia

mongolian boy in the winter

Don't forget to pack your winter socks!

Though in line with her recent interest in production, volunteering in Mongolia for the nation’s premier television network will still be a (giant) step outside the box. Our guess is there most be too many unwanted paparazzi or journalists traveling all the way to Mongolia to get a photo of Malia on her gap year, so this could be a much more low-key option.

VACorps - Take Advantage of a South African Film Industry Internship

View of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

The diverse, mysterious, colorful culture of South Africa beckons you Malia! Volunteer Adventure Corps (VACorps) provides incredible internships throughout Cape Town, and a placement in the film industry is one that should not be missed by any aspiring filmmaker. Film production is on the rise in Cape Town, thanks to the must lower costs, bringing more and more movie sets to the city each year. Did we forget to mention there are Friday excursions for interns to enjoy each week?

GeoVisions - Have a Life Changing Summer in Thailand

water channel markets in thailand

Gap years in Thailand are a popular option for students

Thought leaving Bo, the infamous “First Dog”, at home will no doubt be difficult, helping his furry friends in Thailand should make Malia’s gap year (or summer abroad, if she chooses this program) just a wee-bit easier. From night markets to temples to elephant sanctuaries, this GeoVisions program is jam-packed with experiences, on top of plenty of service hours with the Rescue Paws Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of stray dogs in Thailand (in an animal-friendly way of course!).

United Planet - Spend 6-12 Months Volunteering in Kenya

Masaai men jumping in Kenya

Malia can dive deeper into her family’s roots by volunteering in her grandfather’s homeland. United Planet is a partner of the International Cultural Youth Exchange, which is dedicated to increasing youth cultural understanding across the globe to reduce prejudices and promote peace (seriously, how could Barak say no to this diplomacy-esk gap year opportunity?). Experiencing rural traditions, helping to protect wildlife, learning about the Maasai culture, and giving back to local charities are just some of the worthwhile things Malia can get involved with in Kenya.

Projects Abroad - Coach Sports in Argentina

night game of soccer

Coach your players to victory!

Dust off those soccer skills, Malia! There are dozens of enthusiastic, energetic kids in Argentina that are just waiting for you to teach them how to dribble or kick a game winning goal. Even more important in this potential gap year program is the chance to serve as a role model for disadvantaged kids and provide them with new learning opportunities they would otherwise not have access too. We know your education-advocate-mother will not disagree with the goals of this program!

Internship in Japan - Work as a Media Intern in Tokyo

Takeshita Dori, Tokyo, Japan

Takeshita Dori, Tokyo, Japan - Photo Credit: Spencer Kimura

Back to the career path your Mama says you have in mind. What could be more exciting than an internship in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo?! Internship in Japan can utilize their extensive network of connections in Tokyo to get Malia the media internship she has always dreamed of.

Kaya Responsible Travel - Teach Music, Drama, & Dance in Cambodia

cambodian dancers

Be sure to brush up on your step touches and box steps, Malia!

Malia can put those drama and dance lessons from her childhood to work by volunteering with youth in Cambodia. Kaya volunteers not only share their own skills, techniques, and styles with local children, they’ll also get the opportunity to learn about traditional Khmer dances. Any of the NGOs in Cambodia that Kaya partners with will surely welcome Malia with open arms and hearts.

Pacific Discovery - Gap Year Semester in Australia & New Zealand

South Island, New Zealand

Another English-speaking gap year program, this program is the cherry on top of our top pick list. Pacific Discovery has multi-country programs down to a T, and they aren’t too shabby (because they are actually awesome) when it comes to gap year-worthy cultural learning experiences either. This gap year adventure in the South Pacific will give Malia the chance to explore Australia and New Zealand’s nooks and crannies, from New Zealand’s South Island all the way to the Sunshine Coast.

Volunteer for the Visayans - Follow in My Footsteps & Volunteer in the Philippines!

This program suggestion is based on 100 percent personal experience Malia, I promise. After my first year of university I volunteered with Volunteer for the Visayans (VFV) in the Philippines, and I've hardly looked back since (as in, hello, I'm still here!). One of the best things about volunteering with VFV is that you'll be right next door to our GoAbroad Philippines Office, which has become my home away from home. VFV has had some great media interns and volunteers in the past, but having you join their team and create some incredible films to bring attention to their projects would take things to a whole new level!

If you aren’t inspired to take a gap year like Malia Obama yet, then maybe it simply isn’t your thang, because this list is overflowing with OPPORTUNITY! On the other hand, if graduation couldn’t be any farther away (and you are literally counting down the seconds), and you just want some inspiration to keep you going, go ahead and browse many more gap year possibilities in our gap year program directory.