Taking a gap year offers many unique benefits including developing leadership. But what does that actually mean? How is leadership defined? How does it apply to a gap year? Frankly, there are so many ways to characterize leadership, and great leaders, but at the most basic level, here are some of traits that they typically embody - and how they can be learned and applied to students traveling and exploring new cultures on a gap year.
1. Awareness: A keen sense of what’s going on around you. It goes without saying that just by merely traveling alone, you can’t help but take in all that the scenery, people, and cultural traditions in any given country. It’s truly a great opportunity for students to not only explore the world, but to also "be aware” of the world.
2. Decisiveness: Making a fast and firm choice. There are always going to be times during a gap year that students have to make a decision quickly, even it means going with their gut. You miss a flight, now jump on a bus.
3. Confidence: The mentality that “you can do it”. Challenging activities such as mastering a high-ropes course or backpacking through tough terrain on an excursion-type gap year are just two examples of ways to build confidence.
4. Empathy: Experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and mannerisms of the people around you. Exemplifying respect. In a recent post, I outlined the ways students can be respectful travelers, which is worth a read. But empathy probably goes far beyond that, especially in terms of experiencing life in developing countries; you come to appreciate what you have.
5. Individuality: You being you. Many students come from small towns or have grown up with the same people; standing out is sometimes tough. A gap year provides the perfect opportunity to showcase how you are unique; you get to meet a new group of peers, and in some ways, personality-wise start anew. A gap year is also a great time for self-discovery; finding out other things about yourself that you did not realize before, but lends to your individuality.
6. Honesty: Telling it like it is. Students will most likely be traveling in a small cohort. Being “straight-up” with peers and truthful with Field Advisors opens up strong communication and a positive dialogue across the board.
7. & 8. Focus and Accountability: Thinking through a situation and taking responsibility for your actions. I will relate this to post gap year life. There is ample research to support that gap year students return to academics with a definitive course of study and career choice - focus. They don’t waste their time or their parents' money - accountability.
9. Inspiration: Uplifting people. I haven’t heard one student that hasn’t raved about their gap year. Students return home refreshed, with new life perspective. They feel optimistic about their future and it’s something they want to share. That’s also why they become a program’s best advocate.
Taking a gap year is a journey. A learning experience. An evolution of character that can certainly develop into the strong attributes that define leadership.