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Taking a gap year

What are the benefits from an international point of view?

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Skyler Bentley Hall

A well-known Scandinavian concept is to pursue a gap year or sabbatical following high school. A rising number of internationals choose this viable and enriching alternative, known as "sabbatsår" in Danish. Taking a year off to travel, work, volunteer, learn a new skill, or prepare for university can offer tremendous benefits with personal takeaways that are life-changing. A few of my international clients share their perspective.

Ambitions and aspirations

Eléna, a Danish-French international, was motivated to regain a sense of the world in a non-academic setting and seek once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This past year, Eléna had big ambitions and managed to fulfil many of her aspirations. Some of her highlights include interning with a research team in Switzerland's scientific innovation department, volunteering at a school in Latin America, pursuing advanced diving certification in the Indian Ocean, and vacationing with family and friends in Europe. The pandemic certainly put a spin on things, but she adjusted her goals and remained positive while applying for scientific studies in Canada.

"A Gap Year has allowed me to form unforgettable experiences, given me lifelong international friends, offered a newfound sociocultural perspective, improved my employability, and readied myself for university studies." - Eléna

Exploration and well-being

Vera, a Portuguese international, stayed focused on essential tasks to her health, future goals, and personal well-being. She was thankful to take time for herself without worrying about academic deadlines and prepared applications for Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Netherlands. She was employed in a bookstore, trained for a Portuguese driver's license, and learned some new skills that will be beneficial for her future goals. Work experience helped Vera better understand what it means to pursue a career and the world of work.

"It is important to have ideas before the gap year starts and possibly have things planned ahead of time, such as internships or travel plans. Preparation will make the whole year go by a lot smoother." - Vera

Discipline and newfound knowledge

Florin, a Swiss citizen, completed mandatory military service with the Swiss Armed Forces and was promoted to Sergeant's rank. Following his service, Florin gained valuable work experience with Credit Suisse Asset Management, further developed his investment portfolio, and spent numerous hours programming machine learning models and trading algorithms. These various commitments prepared Florin for his Computer Science and Engineering applications to the US and Switzerland.

"A gap year allows you to discover foreign cultures, gain real-world experience, pick up a new trade or hobby, and pursue existing passions." - Florin

Environmentalism and reflection

Allyson, a US citizen, completed one year of Sociology, Public Policy, Peace and Justice Studies at an American College before pursuing a gap year to change her major and apply overseas. This past year, she learned more about environmentalism by supporting a local recycling programme, promoted civic engagement through the US election, participated in a course confronting biases and structures of racism, and trained for a half-marathon to hone in her mental and physical well-being. Allyson has spent the year committing to a better future for her community, the environment, and herself. She feels even more prepared to pursue Environmental Studies in the UK or Canada next fall.

"A gap year has provided me ample time to become completely comfortable with myself and my capabilities. Do not spend time comparing your own situation to those of classmates and friends and take comfort in knowing that you are investing in your future and creating a completely unique opportunity for yourself that will broaden your worldview once you enter post-secondary education." – Allyson
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