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Gap Year: Travel, Service and Learning to Breathe

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by Heather Reynolds Heather led the first ever 6-Month IMMERSION program back in 2012, and has been a full-time team member behind the scenes of the IMMERSION program ever since.

Our generation has been described as being stuck in the cycle of “cradle to college to cubicle to cemetery” with many struggling to find their unique purpose. In response to the overwhelming burnout in students, academic institutions are looking for ways to reignite passion among college freshman or current students looking for a clear direction. Introducing, the Gap Year!

The truth is, taking time off to breathe, reflect and learn outside the classroom can be incredibly life-giving.

In fact, well-respected universities like Harvard, Princeton and the University of North Carolina are actually incentivizing students to take a Gap Year, although many high school graduates in the U.S. still hesitate to check it out because of social pressures or financial limitations. One fear among parents of potential Gap Year students is, “If I let my son or daughter step off the path toward college, will they ever get back on it? Or will they lose focus?” But if Ivy League universities known for their high academic standards are recommending Gap Years, why do we hesitate? In fact, studies show 90% of students who take a Gap Year ultimately end up going back to school within a year, usually with a renewed energy and focus for their future.

However, selecting the right Gap Year program can be difficult, especially for people of faith who not only want a season of personal growth and development but also desire to make a difference in the world. So many Christian young adults are searching for a meaningful way to “give back” before stepping full time into college or their career path. Our staff at Experience Mission, like others in the Gap Year movement, recognized this need for young adults to travel, serve and challenge themselves in new ways.

Christian Gap Year Missions

Is a Gap Year for you?
EM's IMMERSION program welcomes young adults age 18-30 into a radical experience ranging from 1-9 months abroad. Although Gap Year students are generally those freshly out of high school, more and more people are saying yes!

Current students frustrated with academia.
Recent college graduates looking for an adventure outside the 9-5.
Young professionals in the midst of a major career change.

We realize it’s a big world out there, but we’re not sure when we’ll get to see it. We’re keenly aware there is no perfect time to go abroad for several months, but we know it only becomes harder to step away from the grind as we begin our career, own a home, or start a family. The more established we become in adulthood, the more realities like insurance, taxes, and retirement plans make it hard to just get up and go.

We have more to gain than we realize by going now.

Beyond simply creating the space for personal reflection and intentional service, a Gap Year can help develop skills which often can’t be taught in a traditional classroom setting. Things like: maturity, independence, empathy for others, confidence, spiritual growth, self-awareness, or a deeper understanding of culture. It takes hard and meaningful life experiences to foster these qualities. Over and over again, IMMERSION team members return home from life abroad with a fresh perspective on people, faith, and their calling in the world.

Christian Gap Year Missions

Make Your Faith Come Alive
As life-changing as a Gap Year can be, Christian young adults often face another barrier when choosing the right program. Although there are plenty of great organizations and programs out there, we don’t want the experience to just be about us. We recognize there are real needs in the world and we want to be a part of the solution—which includes sharing our faith.

Often, the message of Jesus is shared best when we’re willing to slow down, enter the nitty-gritty of someone’s everyday life, and be vulnerable about our own struggles.

At EM, we are committed long-term to the communities where we serve. We challenge team members to “live the local way” not just for the thrill of experiencing it but because our willingness to live on someone else’s turf communicates something important on a philosophical level. It’s as if we’re saying, “I’m not here to fix you or tell you how to do things my way. I’m here to listen and learn. I want to serve alongside you as an equal.”

Some of the best conversations happen over a cup of tea or while doing laundry at the river or working on the plantain farm. It’s in these everyday moments when places halfway around the world begin to feel like home and we can connect as equals across racial, cultural, and religious barriers.

Christian Gap Year Missions

Where to begin!
If you’re considering a Gap Year, we know you may also have some practical questions about how to pull it off. Especially if you’re about to graduate high school or are already enrolled in college, we encourage you to consider the following advice:

1. Make a plan about what you’ll actually do with your Gap Year. Don’t sit on the couch and wait for the plans to happen for you! They won’t.

2. Apply to college, then defer enrollment so you have a solid plan waiting for you when you get home. Or, if you’re a current student, begin talking to an advisor about taking a semester off while maintaining scholarships.

3. Start fundraising and contributing some of your own money toward the experience. When you have personally sacrificed and committed finances to the trip, it will mean more to you and inspire others to help you.

Want to explore a Gap Year with IMMERSION? Begin by filling out an Interest Form. Our staff would love to talk with you and help you begin the application process!

You can also learn more about our 1, 3 and 6-month IMMERSION terms or combine two unique trips for a once-in-a-lifetime 9-month Gap Year IMMERSION experience.


More IMMERSION Stories

Finding God in Unexpected Places
I don't need to wait for Him to show up. He is already here with me. Just as He is with you.
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17 Things I Learned on IMMERSION
We all jumped into the trip with a blind YES, trusting that God would make good on his plans for us...and guess what? He did.
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