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Traveling across the globe, immersing yourself in diverse cultures, learning languages foreign to you and engaging with people who have inimitable backgrounds is an educational experience in and of itself.
Surrounding yourself with French speakers, for example, is the fast track to fluency. And assimilating with people in a city or village much unlike your own teaches you empathy for other people and ways of life.
That said, you don’t need to forgo your academics to go anywhere.
Besides, if you do quit and realize you don’t like traveling or that you only want to travel for a short while before pursuing another career down the line, you won’t have that degree to support you. Likewise, a lot of jobs abroad might even require you to have a degree or to be working toward one.
You can travel the world in tandem with your academic education—you just need to know how to go about it.
1. Take a Gap Year Between High School and College
While gap years aren’t so common in America, they’re a norm in Europe and Australia.
In case you haven’t heard of a Gap Year before, it’s 12 months of non-academic pursuits, when students spend time traveling, working abroad or volunteering.
It’s typically taken between the end of high school and the beginning of college, so it’s a nice (and much needed) break that’ll allow you to recharge your batteries to avoid academic burnout.
Most importantly, it gives you a full year to think about what interests you actually want to pursue in college. Instead of diving in headfirst, without the foggiest idea of what you want to do with yourself, you’re given the opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you’re genuinely interested in.
Taking a year off to travel will also arm you with cultural experiences and renewed views of the world that you can add to your résumé.
The skills and knowledge you gain while abroad are valuable fodder for any job application which any employer will appreciate. They’ll recognize your resourcefulness, worldliness, adaptability, and ability to navigate difficult situations with ease.
And, because it’s just a break, you don’t have to quit school—you simply postpone it.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that taking a gap year is a commitment that requires some preparation and work on your end. If you don’t make travel plans or if you fail to save up enough money, you could end up wasting the whole year doing nothing. GapYear.com is a trusted resource that can help you get going.
2. Immerse Yourself in a New Culture by Spending a Year Studying Abroad
Many colleges and universities offer programs that allow students to spend a whole year or semester studying abroad—and evermore students are taking advantage of these opportunities.
While it can be challenging to overcome language barriers, get used to new currencies and grapple with cultural differences while thousands of miles away from your support network, studying abroad is a life-changing experience.
Being an American plopped over in Japan for a semester, for example, might feel like landing on Mars at first. Maybe you’ll grow sick of sushi (is that possible?), and the accuracy of train arrival times will certainly start to throw you off. But you’ll make lifelong friends, learn about a new culture and gain an immense amount of real-world experience you simply can’t learn in a classroom.
Studying abroad is ideal for those with little to no travel experience because you’re placed into programs through which you meet other traveling Americans. Accommodation is included and your college will help organize logistics and offer you support and advice both before you go and while you’re away.
3. Use Your Time off Wisely and Travel During Your Summer Vacations
There are two ways to spend your summers traveling. Those of you who have built up some savings or have another way of acquiring funds can just go and travel. Book a flight, hop on a plane and have an adventure. Easy!
If you don’t have cash readily available though, don’t worry. You can still spend your summer vacation exploring—you’ll just have to work a bit while you’re away.
Here are three options available to you on the road:
Become an au pair. Au pairs are like live-in babysitters who offer childcare services in exchange for room and board, meals and some pocket money. They’re in high demand across Europe, especially as evermore families want their children to learn English and be around native English speakers. You can also use that pocket money to travel after your au pairing stint. Consider sites like Au Pair and Great Au Pair to start scouting some work.
Volunteer abroad. You can fundraise to cover the costs of your flights. A wealth of volunteering programs—which you can find on websites like Volunteer World and Projects Abroad—will cover your room and board in exchange for your help once you’re there. Volunteering also looks great on your résumé and is an easy way to give back.
4. Participate in a Cultural Exchange for a True Local Experience
There are a number of different cultural exchange programs available to young Americans. The point of a cultural exchange is to allow people from one country to fully experience a different country. Naturally, this is done by going abroad and immersing oneself in that culture.
Some well-known exchange programs include:
Fulbright, which helps people spend time in the U.S. and the U.K.
Taglit, which is a birthright to Israel for all Jewish people, and
If you want to learn Spanish, for example, the best way is to spend a month or two at a language school in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia or even Spain. School fees and living costs in these countries can be very low.
Want to learn French? Take a language class in Paris! Chinese? Beijing awaits!
Once you finish your language course you could travel around the country (or to neighboring countries). And you could still make it back in time for the start of the regular school year. You may even want to consider searching for language schools. They might offer you credit you can apply to your studies back at home.
The fact is, if you use your time off wisely—or just take some time off—you can experience the world.
Whichever avenue you choose, you can rest easy knowing that your degree is still underway. (On a hammock somewhere in the Thai islands, in a farmhouse in Uruguay’s countryside or perhaps in a tent in Australia’s outback.)
Where are you planning to get your first taste of traveling while studying? Let us know in the comments!