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Strategies for a gap year

Students who would like to put their college career on hold to travel around the world a gap year can enjoy a life-changing experience particularly if some of the time is used to volunteer abroad. Here are some tips to consider from Projects Abroad, an international volunteer organization that has been sending gap year students abroad to more than 25 destinations on six continents since the mid-90s:

· Find the right program – Choosing a program that fits participants’ specific interests and plans and lets them contribute to a worthwhile and sustainable project is important, and researching programs is crucial before making a commitment to one.

· Participants can try something new – Traveling abroad, whether volunteering or not, is a chance to venture outside of one’s comfort zone and embrace adventure. There are travel and activity opportunities for volunteers when they are finished with service work, and many participants do travel after their placements, as well as on weekends. Some can find themselves bungee-jumping in South Africa, or hiking in the foothills of Mount Everest.

· Learn some of the local language – Advisable for any traveler, learning some of the local language is specially rewarding for volunteers who work in local communities and live with a host family. This is an opportunity to develop language skills and immerse in the host community. Projects Abroad offers one-on-one language courses with a local teacher in most of its destinations, including courses on French, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, and several other local languages.

· Meet the people – Volunteering abroad, participants will get to know people from different backgrounds and walks of life, and it is likely that they will return from their trip with friends from across the globe and make plans to visit them someday, or host them back home.

· Travel with an open mind – As volunteers abroad, participants will have to navigate a new cultural landscape (if volunteers or other travelers wanted everything to be the same, why bother to travel?). Things will be different, of course, and keeping an open mind about the host country will help pave the way for positive interaction. Before traveling, volunteers are encouraged to research local customs and etiquette to feel more comfortable in the host community.

For information about volunteer programs from Projects Abroad, visit www.projects-abroad.org/volunteerprojects. Other volunteer travel organizations to check out include International Volunteer Abroad at www.isvolunteers.org and Global Volunteers at www.globalvolunteers.org.

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