by Zahida Machan, Lattitude Global Volunteering
Like most of her friends, Jane Galloway heard the message loud and clear: if she didn’t go right into university after high school, she never would.
But instead of heeding that advice, she did something different – what research indicates as a key to success in both university and life, and what more and more young people in Greater Victoria are choosing to do. Jane took a Gap Year right after graduating from Stelly’s Secondary School in 2015. “My volunteer placement was in Newcastle, Northern Ireland. I worked as an outdoor instructor, leading activities like climbing, archery and teambuilding exercises.”
According to the Gap Year Association, research shows that Gap Years – traditionally a year off between high school and university – benefit students in profound ways. This breathing time allows them to figure out who they really are, what they want to do, and how to get there. Once they do go to university, they achieve higher GPAs and quicker degree completion rates.
Not all Gap Years are created equal, however. The key to gaining the benefits of a “year off” is to take a “year on” – a Gap Year with intention. This involves volunteering, work, travel or a mix of all three, and doing so with a clear goal in mind and built-in reflection time.
Jane did her Gap Year with Lattitude Global Volunteering, a non-profit organization offering young adults the opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of others through a challenging and structured international volunteering experience in a culture and community different from their own. Established in 1972, Lattitude is the longest standing Gap Year program, having sent nearly 50,000 volunteers overseas over its 47-year history.
Jane didn’t know what she wanted to do with her career, but knew she wanted to attend post-secondary and see the world. “Lattitude seemed like the best possible plan for me – an opportunity to step out on my own as a young adult, experience a new job unlike anything I had done before, and travel.
“It also gave me the opportunity to separate myself from everything I had grown up with, people, places and expectations. I knew that to grow into a well-rounded adult, I would have to force myself into a situation where I knew nothing and no one and build myself back up. The thought of all this terrified me but that’s how I knew I made the right choice.”
Reflecting on her experience four years ago, Jane describes herself as being timid as a recent high school graduate, but by the end of her Gap Year experience, she thrived on uncertainty and interacting with new people. “In the span of a year I grew to not only be confident in my choices as a leader but also confident as a person. I had completely come out of my shell.”
“I recommend that everyone take a Gap Year. You can always learn something more about yourself or about another part of the world. It was one of the best choices I’ve made and has affected me in a million different ways.”
Lattitude provides opportunities for young people to travel, live, and volunteer overseas in 15 different countries, for three to 12 months, with departures throughout the year. For more information, please visit www.lattitudecanada.org.