Six Worldview-Expanding Options For An Incredible Gap Year

People in America had a lot of opinions when Malia Obama announced that she was taking a gap year before beginning her time at Harvard. Hot takes sizzled across the internet. Although Malia is taking her gap year before college, you can start a gap year almost any time — junior year abroad, before graduate school, before you start your career, mid-career, tomorrow morning, etc. The point is simply to break up the linear progression of your life.

Across the rest of the post-industrial world, gap years are pretty common–like free education to a tertiary level, unlimited paid sick leave, comprehensive health insurance, six weeks paid vacation, limited work hours…you know, all things that make life better and leave people feeling more productive. But rather than go full bleak, let’s look at some of the great things you can do with your gap year. Malia, feel free to take these reccomendations!


Manual labor is passion. Working from sun up to sun down is a chore for the body and the mind. When you feel the pain in your muscles from planting seeds all day, pulling beets, or tilling land, you know you’ve accomplished something. Working in agriculture for a year will assist you for the rest of your life in making valid and conscientious decisions about what it takes for your food to get to your plate. Suddenly you will truly understand the lifecycle of the things we consume.

You don’t even have to leave the USA to do this, but it may be more fun to pick grapes in France, or hustle cattle in Australia. There are many, many, many ways to find agro work abroad and at home.


The Holocene Extinction is upon us. Many, many species are not going to make it out of this century. We can save others if we try. Education, money, and feet on the ground are the way forward. You can spend a year working with people and animals to help stop the loss of some very important species worldwide.

The WWF is a great resource. Or you can get super specific and head to Borneo and help Orangutans. There are so many organizations out there in need of people to donate their time. Find one that suits you and go for it!


MIANZHU, SICHUAN - MAY 21: A volunteer from Nigeria teaches English in the temporary classroom at a relief center on May 21, 2008 in Deyang of Sichuan Province, China. China fight against time to deliver relief supplies to survivors amidst concerns of possible disease outbreaks. More than 40,000 people have been confirmed killed and about five million people were made homeless by the May 12 earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale, the worst in 58 years to hit China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
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Hey, here’s a handy guide for moving abroad! Okay, not everyone can afford to volunteer on a farm or in a park. That’s just reality. Teaching English for a year is a very rewarding way to get into a culture and new environment. Plus, you actually make some money doing it. There are some places where a teaching certificate is required. Fear not, that only takes a month to get. After that, the whole world opens up to you.

Our suggestion is to pick a region you want to spend a year exploring, then do a little internetting and find the best place to teach ESL in that region. Simply google TEACH ENGLISH ABROAD. English First is a decent option for short term, very international locales. They’ll hire almost anyone willing to hit the road, and they pay for visas, flights, housing, health care, and salary in a one-year contract.


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What better way to get to know your country and its citizens than by spending a year working with the people? Rewarding adventures do not always have to be on the other side of the world. Sometimes they’re in Maryland. Natural disasters are plaguing the U.S. — more and more every year. Americans need help to rebuild their lives and move on. Go and help them!

AmeriCorps offers a litany of programs for 18 to 24-year-olds. They have two groups to chose from: the Traditional Corps for direct help to communities in need, and the FEMA Corps to train and help people in dealing with natural disaster.



Indigenous populations are a forgotten minority in the U.S. and, to a lesser, extent Canada. Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by police, they are impoverished at a higher rate than any other group in the USA. Rape is rampant and 72% of these go un-prosecuted. EPA loopholes allow big industry to pollute with impunity on reservations. Suicide rates are so high that a state of emergency has been declared on some reservations. Huge conglomerates loan reservations money, then drain them dry to repay loans on building casinos…cough, cough, Drumpf.

We need to acknowledge and help this community. Wind River and Pine Ridge rank lower than Iraq and Zimbabwe for quality of life. There are places in the U.S. that are worse to live in than IRAQ. Let’s look inward and help these people out.


Let’s lighten the mood. If you can afford it, and it isn’t that expensive, you can spend a year seeing the world. Sometimes you just need to get away from it all to see what there really is. Save up, sell your TV, eBay some clothes. If you can save a little scratch while you’re in high school, spend that money seeing the world. There’s a lifetime of trips to take out there. Climb mountains. Sail the oceans. Explore Russia. Train around Europe. Walk the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Trek the Via Alpina. Drive from Prudhoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego. Do something amazing. Learn about other cultures: their food, booze, idiosyncrasies, nature, pop culture, music. You’ll feel better for it.

Zachary Johnston is a director, writer, traveler, and part-time chef and mixologist. You can see for yourself on Instagram @ztp_johnston, or on Twitter@ZTPJohnston.