You can read countless blog posts and articles that highlight the many benefits of taking a gap year for students, but what I haven't come across though, is more conversation on the importance of relationships when traveling on a gap year and the way gap year programs impact relationships overall. I found author and President of the Board of the American Gap Association, Joseph O'Shea's book: Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs, especially enlightening in this regard.
Of course, the bond made among students traveling on a gap year together will foster lifelong friendships that last long after their journey; however, I found it interesting to read these poignant ways a gap year can impact relationships otherwise:
Engaging with other age groups:
Most students admittedly spend a majority of their time at home with peers. During a gap year, students meet and interact with people of all ages from very young children to seniors, especially if volunteering is a large part of the program. Generations of people become their network.
Reflection on strangers:
Students react differently and change their attitude towards strangers. For many, there is a distrust of strangers; many are "positively disposed" to people they do not know. While traveling, almost everyone is a stranger. After taking a gap year, students report having more faith in people and understand that for the most part, people are genuine and friendly. Approaching and interacting with strangers becomes second nature and a must.
Many countries have very differing viewpoints on men's and women's roles and the household responsibilities within it. Acute awareness of these differences helps students appreciate the challenges of family and gender equality overall, and influences how they will develop their own family dynamics.
Changing ideas on family and their relationships back home:
-In many developing countries, extended family often plays a larger emotional role (living together, caring for each other). Many students recognize the need to reconnect or make more effort to spend time with their own relatives. And if they didn't have a close family growing up, it also becomes a priority.
-In these communities, students also see the importance of strong parenting in a child's life, which brings the need to be an influential role model for their own children to the forefront.
-Many students think college and career, career, career, but their eyes open up to the fact that thinking about family and work/family balance early on can also fit into the picture.
-This may seem unworthy to mention, but many young adults say they dislike children until they actually spend time with children from all of the world and in different cultures.
-Regarding marriage, students took a closer look at how marriages work and what makes them work beyond living with their own parents.
Students often feel that their parent-child relationship becomes one of mutual respect as adults.
Concluding, students benefit in so many social and emotional ways while traveling on a gap year and then once home, including the five valuable ways listed above.
*Photo: Alex Pliskin, a student traveling with Winterline in the fall