While the data on students taking a Gap year is sparse, one thing is clear—more students are choosing to take a Gap experience, and the number grows every year. It allows students to explore their options and find their focus before committing to four years of university, setting them up for success.
Students can tell you firsthand the benefits of taking a gap year. Mikaela Gillman, a Rustic Pathways Gap Year alum, took part in the Latin American Semester in 2012, traveling through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru, before enrolling at Michigan University in 2013. For Mikaela, Gap was the perfect transition from high school to college.
“When I was looking at colleges, from the beginning I wanted to take a Gap. I knew I loved travel, knew I had an interest in Spanish, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study,” said Gillman. “I also wanted to break up high school and college.”
Gillman’s Gap semester allowed her to experience new countries and cultures, improve her Spanish skills, venture outside of her comfort zone, and discover causes she was passionate about. During her Gap semester, Gillman was introduced to the Sacred Valley Project (SVP), a nonprofit that focuses on improving access to education for young women from low-income families in the remote, mountain communities of Peru. SVP runs two dormitories that provide room, board, and educational support to young women during the school week so that they can continue their studies. The young women of the dorm live too far away from high school to be able to commute daily from home.
For Gillman, finding SVP was a turning point:
“I was inspired by the project and it really triggered my awareness to the complexities in seeking education—specifically for Quechua-speaking youth in Peru. I wanted to learn more about youth migration for education so I did a research project on the topic my freshman year. I wrote a 20 page paper titled, ‘The Circulatory Migration for Education of Quechua-Speaking Children in Peru.’ When I turned in my paper my professor told me that if I wanted to delve deeper and write a thesis on the topic my senior year, that she would be interested in advising me.”
This July, Gillman is building off of her Gap experience by embarking on a year-long study abroad experience in Chile at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso, where she will study social work and Latin American studies. During the summer break, she hopes to return to Peru and visit SVP to conduct research for her thesis, focusing on the impact of migration for education on the migrant child and their family.
Ultimately, Gillman credits her Gap experience for preparing her for college. By taking a break from school, she was able to find her interests, become more independent and self-reliant, and enter college with more confidence and focus. For others considering a gap year, Gillman has these words of advice:
“I think that whether you work, travel, learn a new skill, or something different, it is valuable to take time away from school to learn about yourself and about life from outside of an academic environment. I always tell people that taking a gap year was the best decision I ever made. It shaped my interests and gave me direction once I started college. I felt that I knew myself better after spending a year on my own and outside of my comfort zone. I also have a much clearer idea of who I am, what my interests are, and what I want to gain from my education.”
More than a decade of program leader experience, fluency in Spanish, and commitment to community service make Kelly a natural fit to direct our Peru operations. Previously, Kelly worked in Costa Rica with indigenous communities and turtle conservation efforts after joining Rustic in 2008. Originally from New Jersey, Kelly earned a degree in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.