You don’t have to be rich or British (the gap year concept originated in the UK) to reap all the benefits of a gap year, nor do you have to be a graduating high school senior. Whether you’re between careers or taking a break from your studies, everyone can benefit from a year out.
Last week, I wrote about my gap year experience. Despite my reservations, I was happy to receive several emails and comments from readers who could relate. I was also delighted to get emails from readers interested in taking a gap year but not sure where to start.
My gap year was funded via a government fellowship, but I’ll get to those details in a bit! Even without scholarships, gap years don’t need to be ridiculously expensive. Here are some ideas for an amazing gap year that won’t deplete your college fund:
Find Your Own Project of Interest
For a biannual membership fee of $29, you can join Work Away or Help X to search for volunteer opportunities abroad. Each platform offers a wide range of projects on every corner of the globe, from helping out in a hostel in Nicaragua to teaching English in Poland to volunteering with animal conservation efforts in Ecuador.
In exchange for your help, most hosts offer free accommodation and/or a stipend. Both sites feature more traditional volunteer opportunities as well and are a much cheaper alternative to volunteer placement services.
WWOOF operates similarly, except it focuses on connecting organic farms with volunteers. Volunteering on a farm doesn’t seem like my cup of tea, but backpackers love WWOOF and I have only heard positive things.
Take a Working Holiday
While you certainly won’t get rich by doing a working holiday, you should be able to earn enough to cover your expenses and live fairly comfortably. There are loads of options for earning money while traveling, including teaching English, working as an Au Pair, or enrolling in a working holiday visa scheme.
Most working holiday participants go to Australia or New Zealand, but depending on your nationality, there are several options for working holiday visas.
Teaching English in South Korea has become a popular option for recent college grads, as the benefits are pretty sweet. For more options, check out this list of countries where English teachers aren’t required to have a degree.
If one of your gap year goals is to learn a new language, consider taking the time to focus exclusively on language study. There’s no better way to learn than immersion methods!
For example, if you’re interested in learning Spanish, language schools in South America are inexpensive, and tuition usually includes accommodation and activities.
Look for an Internship Abroad
It’s not easy to find an internship abroad, especially a paid one. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible – you will just need a lot of patience!
Idealist is an excellent place to start your internship search. International internships with free housing and/or a monthly stipend are posted on a semi-regular basis.
AISEC also helps students secure internships abroad while only charging minimal operational fees.
There’s an overwhelming amount of companies charging thousands of dollars to coordinate unpaid internship placements. Save your money – with a little grit, seeking expensive outside help is completely unnecessary.
Who says your gap year has to be well-structured or career-oriented? Save for a few months, grab your backpack, and go! While volunteering or working abroad is certainly rewarding, so is traveling in general! If you’re tight on cash and traveling alone for the first time, I recommend Southeast Asia. It’s safe, cheap, and easy to navigate compared to other regions with similar living expenses.
You don’t have to go abroad to make an impact. If you’re passionate about social justice, consider applying for AmeriCorp’s City Year. City Year volunteers work with students in inner city schools, aiming to improve graduation rates in America’s most underprivileged school districts.
Volunteers receive a small monthly stipend and the program covers most living expenses. Those who successfully complete the program are eligible for the Segal Education Award (worth ~$5,730), which can be used for future studies or to pay off student loans. Many universities match or supplement the award through private funding as well.
US State Department Scholarships
The Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs offers a variety of funding for those interested in cross-cultural exchange. Most of the scholarships offered are for foreign students interested in learning more about the US, but there are a few programs open to American citizens.
NSLI-Y supports students interested in studying languages less commonly taught in school, such as Turkish, Korean, and Russian. The cut-off age for the youth program (there’s also a similar scholarship for college students) is 18-19, so this would only be an option for graduating high school seniors looking for a gap year.
Another amazing scholarship opportunity is CBYX, which is how I spent my gap year. The CBYX scholarship is dually funded by the US and German governments, offering students a fully-funded year in Germany attending German high school, university or completing an internship. Click here for more information on CBYX and the application process.
If you’re a German citizen interested in going to the United States, the German version of the program is known as the Parlamentarische Patenschafts-Programm.
I hope these affordable gap year suggestions are helpful! If there’s anything I missed, please don’t hesitate to share! If you took a gap year, how were you able to fund it?
Travel-obsessed girl making her way around the world via standby tickets. Thanks to a family member's job in the commercial airline industry, I can fly almost anywhere essentially for free! So far this year, I've visited four continents with no plans to stop anytime soon. I'm always looking for new adventures and places to explore. Follow me as I go!
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