How to learn from the world?
October 18, 2009 2:25 AM   Subscribe

Taking A Year Off. (yes, I realize it sounds like this.)

I'm currently attending a prestigious university and I love it and I love all that I'm learning, but I don't know if an academic environment is truly where I belong. Currently in the early pre-developmental stages, taking a year off and traveling, working, interning or whatever-ing might be something that would benefit. Any personal experiences/advice?
posted by allymusiqua to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Spend part of your year doing some seriously blue-collar, unskilled labour. Stack boxes, work on a factory production line, clean toilets, whatever. Try to work without complaining too much. It will give you a new level of respect for the people who do those jobs, and it will galvanise you, one way or another, on the question of whether higher education is worth your time and effort.
posted by embrangled at 2:46 AM on October 18, 2009 [11 favorites]

I'll only offer this little tidbit: if you don't take a year off for travelling during - or immediately after - your degree, there's a very very very high chance that you *never* will, even when you retire.

Some people may pipe up with exceptions (there are always exceptions to any rule) but overall, I believe that for the vast majority of people, living for a year out of a bag is something they can only deal with when young.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:59 AM on October 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

I wish I had worked for a year before or in the middle of my Bachelor's -- it's really hard to have any realistic perspective on anything until you've actually been in the labor force. Embrangled's idea is good, but I don't think it has to be a blue-collar job, there are enough other shit jobs out there. My first job after graduating was teaching high school for two years, and I went straight back into academia afterwards. After a year or two actually working to earn your keep you're in a much better position to plan your life, because you know what you want, what you can realistically get, and most importantly what you don't want. You can combine this with travel, too: get a job somewhere you've never been, preferably somewhere cheap. If you grew up on the east or west coast of America, move to the deep south, or somewhere in Eastern Europe, or Latin America. -- In my experience, having a relatively sheltered, non-working life until the age of 22 and then being dropped into the work-force was a terrible, terrible experience, and you should absolutely get in a practice year of real-world experience first.
posted by creasy boy at 4:08 AM on October 18, 2009

Go somewhere to go there, not to get away from somewhere else.
posted by mdonley at 4:13 AM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm planning to take a year or so off beginning in June. I'm 28 now and I wish I had done it when I was 22. My off time will be spent exploring career options that I thought were silly and pie-in-the-sky when I was a "sensible" high school senior choosing a major. Take the year off while you can.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:13 AM on October 18, 2009

How much school do you have left? If it isn't much I'd finish your degree and then travel for a year (pretty common approach among western europeans).

I'm just finishing a one year backpacking trip, actually - flying home in two days. I'm 32, though, so doing this under somewhat different circumstances. I will say this - traveling outside the US and Europe will likely rid you of your white guilt (based on your SWPL link) rather than reinforce it.
posted by MillMan at 6:56 AM on October 18, 2009

Better to do it now than once you get laden with assorted responsibilities (home ownership, family, etc.).

If I were to do it, I'd aim more toward travelling for a year, or travelling with some volunteer-travel thrown in, perhaps?

If you think you might be interested in it, maybe teaching abroad - I don't believe you have to do it for a year - some contracts are shorter.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:26 AM on October 18, 2009

My friend is currently teaching English in South Korea for the second year in a row and is having the time of his life.
posted by cyphill at 8:33 AM on October 18, 2009

I took off the year between HS and college (started college a year late). It's very important to see the world and how different different places are -- even in this age of of homogenized culture in a lot of the global north. My only advice: Go. Now. Make a plan, or at least a very high-level plan, and get started playing your family and personal contacts and with your academic advisor (most prestigious universities will have an office whose sole mission is to help you find ways to study or volunteer or intern abroad) and use these resources to plan what part of the world you'd like to be in, and what kinds of things you can do. I'd do some structured elements with some unstructured time to travel in nearby areas / countries (especially because this will help you sell it to your family, who might not accept a totally independent and aimless journey).

Here's a list of some things I'd like to do. Might spark some ideas for you, too.

1. Hike the Anapurna Circuit in Tibet.

2. Trek inland into Brazil. Here's an itinerary that I just found (check out the photos), though you could probably do something similar for much less than half that crazy prince if you were in-country and more patient on the transportation

3. See Senegal and Mail in west africa. The surfing off the coast of Dakar is one of the stops in The Endless Summer, the quintessential surf film from the 1960s.

4. Spend time in Japan. Both in Tokyo, and out in the rest of the country, too.

5. Check out Yemen's coffee country, the birthplace of coffee.
posted by zpousman at 2:11 PM on October 18, 2009

Look into the Student Conservation Association. I did about 2 years worth of internships with them, post-college. It's U.S. based have to apply, but they cover travel, housing, food, and give you a small stipend, and optional Americorps award. Or look into Americorps, I knew quite a few people who liked it. I don't know what country you're in, so that may not apply.

My version of a year off was to give myself perspective before applying to grad school. I got to see a lot of states and try out some career paths, without being stuck in a traditional post-college cube job. I interned in two major cities, then turned around and did restoration/trail work. I also second embrangled...physical work can give you a definite perspective on life. I'm female, and had never really done hard, physical labor before, but I sure learned to trust my hands and listen to my body. Plus I got to camp and do something good for the earth, gain tons of useful skills, meet cool people, and travel. I highly recommend trail work. There are organizations in all states and countries that want volunteers.

Whatever you do, put yourself outside your comfort zone. Especially if you want to change your mental framing (the swpl link?). Perhaps you have access to resources and things others don't. Most people don't care unless you make a fuss about it. That's another thing being out of school can teach you.
posted by shinyshiny at 3:39 PM on October 18, 2009

I would recommend talking to your school's study abroad department about what sort of programs they have connections with. They may be able to hook you up with internship and work programs abroad, and certainly will have info on study abroad programs that might satisfy your need to break out of the mold without derailing your studies. A major plus side to this is that if you're on some sort of financial aid, you may be able to apply it to the cost of traveling. There are a lot of non-traditional study abroad programs these days; I did one a few years ago in India that focused on international development and involved an extended internship at an NGO. Loved it so much that I'm back in India studying in a Hindi language institute.
posted by bookish at 7:27 AM on October 19, 2009

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