Have you Heard of a Gap Year?

Here’s one experience of self-directed learning, from a friend of Open Doors in Warwick, NY:


Warwick residents Ava Burgos, 19, and Calvin Linn, 21, are settling back into Warwick this month, following a four-month-long gap year experience on a tropical fruit farm on Maui. For these two young people, it was like life in paradise — in close community with other young people (all living in permanent tents on platforms!), cooking together each day, excellent food supplied by the farm’s owners, and every day recreational opportunities like a nearby Hawaiian beach or mountain volcano!

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 “When I started looking at farms on www.Helpx.net for my gap year, I thought I’d go to California,” said Ava. “Then I thought, well, why not Hawaii? And when I found Huelo Lookout Fruit Stand on Maui, I knew it was really a dream come true.”

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The pair worked each day for six hours at the fruit and souvenir stand by the side of the only highway one the northeast side of Maui, near a lookout point where many tourists stopped. Each day, they set up the portable stand, put out all the fruit, and made smoothies for their guests, using a machete to cut up pineapples and coconuts fresh from the farm.

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Opening macadamia nuts.

At the farm on the Hana Highway, Ava and Calvin experienced group living with other young people from all over the world, including China, New Zealand, Portugal and France.

“The best thing about it has been meeting a whole new group of people, plus the warm weather, and being so close to the beach!” said Calvin.

Over Christmas, Ava’s mother visited, and Ava and Calvin baked dozens and dozens of hand-cut gingerbread cookies to share with the community.

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Ava and Calvin planned and worked to save for their gap-year adventure for more than a year, working several jobs so they could fulfill their dream of travel that broadened their horizons and their futures.

As the American Gap Association has defined it, a gap year is: “A structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers.  A gap year experience can last from two months up to two years, and typically combines travel, volunteering, interning or working.”

Ava chose the concept of a gap year to make her self-directed learning experiences more accessible to friends and family who could stretch their minds that far. The gap year concept also seems to work for her because it allowed her to think in terms of travel, which is one of her passions. She stayed in touch with home and friends via Facebook and Twitter each day, and that is helping her make an easier transition back to her Warwick life now.

Students who have taken a gap year overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs and careers, according to an independent study of 280 gap year students by the American Gap Association.  In another study, 88 percent reported that the experience had significantly added to their appeal for employers.

Though the gap year concept is just being discovered in the U.S., it is much more popular in Australia, where 11% of high school graduates take one, and in the UK, where 9% do (including both Princes William and Harry).


At Open Doors, this is the kind of adventure and fun we advocate for young adults so they can build self-knowledge and gain experience of with the real world outside of the structure of school.  Come see your yourself at one of our events!