How many students can say they’ve already practiced everything they want to do in their lives in school? Probably none. A gap year can be your chance to actually try something that interests you, whether it’s a potential career or just something you want to learn more about. It can be a time to discover something brand new or learn more about something you already love while working, interning, volunteering, or studying in a new way. If that sounds good to you, just think, “Year off! Hands on!” and go find hands on learning gap year programs for you!
You can find hands on learning gap year programs almost anywhere in the world, but when it comes to hands on learning, there are a few places that have gained a reputation for offering great gap year experiences and programs in experiential learning.
Thailand. Thailand has grown as a destination for experiential learning gap year programs over the last decade. It’s thriving tourist industry and beautiful beaches may provide initial appeal, but the benefits of doing a hands on volunteer or hands on learning program in Thailand go far beyond the scenery. With programs in medicine, teaching, religion, veterinary medicine, biology, marine conservation, and international development, Thailand is an amazing place to build your skills, make a difference, and up your tolerance for spicy food.
Costa Rica. Costa Rica is an easy stepping-stone to travel for Americans because it is close to the United States, affordable, and has a well-developed tourism industry, but it is also home to a huge variety of ecosystems in a small location. You can go from volcanoes to rainforests to beaches in just minutes! While many programs require some Spanish language experience, many serve English-only participants or provide a language-learning component or language immersion. You will find hands on volunteer options and hands on learning in a more course-like structure as well. Tou-can do it all on your gap year in Costa Rica!
South Africa. South Africa is popular for experiential learning gap year programs because it allows participants to travel to Africa while still being in an English-speaking country with a well-developed infrastructure for travelers. From extreme sports and endemic wildlife species (lions! giraffes! elephants!) to world-class universities and research facilities, South Africa has great opportunities for hands on learning gap year programs in medicine, conservation, biology, astronomy, and international development.
Everything Else You Need to Know About Gap Year Hands-On Learning Programs
Costs. Experiential learning programs vary greatly in cost, depending on their country of location, length, and whether they focus more on volunteer-style experience or are course-driven (which often require experts such as professors or professionals to teach you along the way). Be sure to check what is included and get a picture of what additional expenses will be required of you.
Deciding if the position is a good investment or your time and money means analyzing your goals. Are you looking for this program to help you get a job? To help you decide if a certain career is right for you? To make a difference in the world? Think about your goal and then you can evaluate whether the program is a good investment. You can fundraise to help support your efforts.
Accommodations. Accommodations on hands on learning gap year programs can vary significantly, so you should talk with the programs that interest you to hear about accommodations and set your expectations. Ask to see photographs, or talk to past participants about the housing. For most people, the accommodations aren’t the most important factor, as long as they are safe, but knowing what to expect can make all the difference! Generally, your housing will vary based on program type: more academic programs may use dorms, volunteer programs may use on-site shared housing for volunteers, and community programs may use shared, simple apartments.
Visas. A big benefit of using an organized program for your gap year is that they can assist you in understanding what—if any—visa is needed and securing that visa. Generally, visa fees are not included in program fees. Getting ready for your gap year experience means making sure you have the proper permissions to be in your program country. Need to find an embassy to secure your visa? Start here.
Safety. The advice for safety abroad is a lot like the advice at home: keep your wits about you, don’t go out alone in the evenings, don’t go home with strangers, and make sure someone always knows where you are. Once you find a program you like, talk to them about what they advise for keeping safe. Purchasing an international phone plan for your cell phone and getting travel insurance are additional good ways to make sure you have a good safety net in-country.
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Choosing a hands on learning gap year program means thinking about what you want to learn and why you want to learn it. When it comes to a gap year experience, making it worthwhile is about setting your goals and finding a program (or creating your own schedule) to meet those goals.
What is a great fit for someone else might not work for you at all. There is no one right way to get hands on with your year off! Once you’ve found an experiential learning gap year program that you know is perfect for you, try to set your own goals within the program. Maybe you’ll try to get recommendation letters from three staff members, or you’ll keep a detailed blog of your experience. Whatever it is, hold yourself accountable to making the most of the experience in some personal way.
One great tip is to raise your expectations of yourself and lower your expectations of the program pieces that aren’t your priority. Let go of the fact that the apartment has a leaky faucet or you don’t love the food, and focus on what you can do to learn more, do more, and see more!
Your experiential learning gap year is what you make it. Experiential learning can look almost like a regular classroom or it can take you far from civilization (and anything in between), so think about what you’d love to do, and go find it! Whether you find the perfect program for you, combine programs to make a customized gap year, or build your own plan by talking directly with organizations, a hands on learning gap year can push you to grow and change in amazing ways.
Keep Reading! Explore Experiential travel advice for not-so-average teens.