Innovative Gap Year Ideas for Your First Year After College

Olivia Christine Perez

Traversing the globe as a writer and marketing consultant, Olivia writes for Go Overseas about topics including gap years and general travel advice.

Riley J., VACorps South Africa
Photo by: Riley J., VACorps South Africa

Over the past decade, gap years have increased in popularity among participants from the United States. Though most traditionally a right of passage for UK, New Zealand, and Australia residents, the practice is now seen and encouraged in more countries, worldwide. But do you have to be a high school graduate or enrolled in a university to take a gap year?

No longer solely regarded as a one-year sabbatical after high school, gappers who've just graduated from college are also part of this growing number. In fact, many gap year alumni will share that taking a year off before entering the "working world" helped boost their personal and professional development.

If you are a college graduate and global experience is on your must-do list, here are some transformative gap year programs to consider joining during your year off.

Leadership Training Programs

Izzy R., Plan My Gap Year Sri Lanka
Photo by: Izzy R., Plan My Gap Year Sri Lanka

Now that you have finished college (or are about to), you’ll likely start thinking about career paths and opportunities that will best fit your professional goals. One thing that companies look for in both hiring and career track potential is leadership qualities.

Consider taking a gap year to build those skills while traveling overseas. There are a number of programs you can sign up for that focus on personal growth and leadership development. These programs may come in the form of volunteer or intern roles, or even a tourism guide. Some activities to consider that will strengthen your leadership qualities include:

  • Becoming a tour leader: As a tour leader you can learn how to guide a team under uncomfortable conditions and tight deadlines. Can your concise communication skills and ability to think outside of the box help you become a better leader in the workforce?
  • Securing an internship or mentorship with a local company: Hands-on programs give you just the environment you need to learn essentials, like marketing and business development, and improve your negotiation skills.

Gap year program options leaders-in-training might love include:

Language Immersion Programs

We’ve emphasized this before, but are keen to repeat it: multilingual skills are great for your resume. The ability to speak multiple languages can open so many doors for you -- especially if you are interested in working abroad, as many jobs may not provide a work visa if you do not speak the country’s native language.

Try taking a few language courses or fully dive into an immersive program that takes language learning both in and outside of the classroom. These programs may focus on cultural activities, local home-stays, speaking and writing classes, or volunteer opportunities.

Courses to consider that will help you learn a new language during your year overseas:

Cultural Exchange & Volunteer Programs

Karina J., Me to We
Photo by: Karina J., Me to We

Take global learning beyond textbooks and sign up for a cultural exchange program during your post-collegiate gap year. Exchange programs offer the opportunity to learn a new language and cultural traditions by living and working with locals just as you would at home. What better way to get into the groove of a new daily routine, right?

Whether working directly for a family, at a school, or being involved in the arts, cultural exchange programs are one of the best ways to gain a deeper connection with places and people outside of your comfort zone. Offer your skills for volunteer opportunities or take cultural classes, like a dance course, that highlights the beauty of a destination beyond tourist attractions.

Gap year program options that offer cultural exchange opportunities include:

Teaching Opportunities

You may have heard of post-collegiate gappers spending a year abroad teaching English as a second language. With or without a TEFL certification, you can become a teacher during your gap year as well. Whether it is teaching on an island or in the mountains, to villages or private schools; teaching English or teaching sport; there are plenty of ways to use your native English proficiency or unique skills to travel the world and benefit from a gap year overseas.

If you are considering a teaching experience after college, be sure to also include programs that offer certification, program placement, and/or hands-on training. Don't worry: these opportunities won’t force you into a classroom the entire time -- you will still have the opportunity to explore local sites and go on adventurous expeditions.

Teaching programs you might love during your gap year overseas:

Nature & Wildlife Programs

Jade F., ISV South Africa
Photo by: Jade F., ISV South Africa

Spend your gap year after college exploring your wild side -- with nature and wildlife, that is! Animal lovers and travelers with a thirst for the outdoors will thrive in a gap year program that focuses on nature and wildlife. Are you interested in jungle treks, deep sea dives, or saving the local marine life? There are so many options to choose from.

Whether a long-term expedition that requires physical training, philanthropic opportunity focused on conservation, or a combination program that allows you to explore the best of the wild at your leisure in exchange for teaching and volunteer work, nature, and wildlife programs are a top choice for graduates taking a gap year.

Gap year programs to consider that offer an awesome opportunity to get up and close with nature and wildlife:

How Do You Want to Spend Your Post-College Gap Year?

The great thing about most gap year programs is you can choose from a variety of countries and itineraries -- including their duration. Why not experience a bit of everything during your year off and boost your leadership, teaching, and language skills while adventuring and volunteering for the joy of it? Either way, taking a gap year will be totally worth it... and the best graduation gift you can give yourself.