Graduating? Consider a Post-Grad Gap Year
by Mike Hower
University of California Davis
Throughout our lives, many of us follow a safe, predetermined path — we work hard in high school and go to college, and then work hard in college and hopefully graduate in four years. Upon reaching college graduation, many see themselves as facing a fork in a familiar road — to dive headfirst into the “real world” job market or go directly to graduate school. When I faced this predicament after graduating from college in 2009, I decided to go with the former and forestall graduate school in order to get a taste of that real world.
Despite the abominable economic climate, I was lucky enough to find a “real” job at a public relations company in San Francisco within three months of graduating. Settling into my comfortable cubicle and making a regular salary, it would seem as if I was well on my way toward a successful corporate career. However, I could not shake the feeling that I belonged elsewhere. Although I had done well for myself, I longed to find a way to do well for others — to break away from the safe harbor and do something, anything to make the world a little better, a little brighter.
Determined to find a way to reconcile my idealistic and pragmatic drives, I learned about WorldTeachfrom a friend of a friend — thus, my dream of a post-college gap year was born. After doing some research, I learned that WorldTeach is a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded by a group of Harvard students in 1986 in response to the growing need for educational assistance in developing countries. WorldTeach places volunteer educators in developing communities in Asia, Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Pacific.
Given the abundance of questionable teach-abroad programs out there, I was at first wary of something that seemed too good to be true. However, the organization’s Harvard credentials and trusted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s endorsement convinced me that it was legit. I also liked that WorldTeach allows you to apply to work in the country of your choosing and placements last for only one year. As an added benefit, WorldTeach service allows you to defer your college loans during your year abroad.
After applying and being accepted into the Colombia program, a few months later I sacrificed an impending promotion and departed for South America. Living and teaching in Bogotá, Colombia, for the past four months has taught me things about myself and the world that grad school or a cubicle never could.
Growing up has a way of causing us to suppress our idealistic impulses while embracing a more pragmatic outlook on life. Especially after college, with many of us weighed down by college debt, it may seem that our only recourse is to discard what some would deem as naïve, childish dreams and do what we must to survive. However, when we give up these dreams, we give up the best parts of ourselves.
For those of you deciding what to do after you graduate, I urge you to take a chance, embrace your idealistic side and consider a post-college gap year volunteering abroad. In doing so, you will not only develop practical skills such as learning a foreign language, but also provide a service for the betterment of mankind.