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Filtering by Tag: gap year

When is the Best Time to Study Abroad?

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Guest post from YFU Alumna and Campus Ambassador Hollie Nusbaum

When considering studying abroad, something you need to think about is when you want to do it. There is, of course, not a time that is the “best” to study abroad for everybody; it depends on your personality and what you think will work best for you.

For most programs, sophomore year is the earliest you can spend a year abroad. There are a few major benefits to studying abroad in 10th grade. For starters, if you’re concerned about potentially missing major American high school events, this is a great time to go on exchange. Sophomore year in the US tends to be a less eventful year, when it comes to things like prom or standardized test prep, so you can go without the fear of missing out on the American experience. A potential drawback to going this year could be your age and how prepared you feel. As one student who went abroad during his sophomore year, Josiah Jarvenpaa, said, “I think that I was a little bit young and still nervous to be traveling, and as a result I wasn’t quite as confident about stepping up and trying new things in my host country as I probably would have been had I waited a year or two.” Josiah added that, while he felt a little less confident while abroad, by the time he came back he had become much more open to new experiences and was better about taking advantage of all the opportunities he could during the remainder of his high school experience back in the states.

What about going abroad junior year? Eleventh grade provides an option that’s a bit of a middle ground, since you wouldn’t be quite as young as a sophomore but also wouldn’t be missing any of the typical senior year events. The major concern for many, rather, is the fact that a large amount of college prep happens during your junior year. If doing well on standardized testing is extremely important to you, this would be something to consider. Deciding to go abroad your junior year doesn’t mean you have to forfeit your college prep, though. One possible way is to wait until you return home after your exchange and take the tests at the beginning of your senior year. Alternatively, you could get them done at the end of your sophomore year. Some people even decide to take the test in their host country. Lillian Hua, who studied abroad during her junior year, took two of these options. First, she took the ACT a few months before leaving home. Because of this, she was able to go into her exchange without worrying about the test. She decided to give it another shot while abroad, saying that during the year “I figured I may as well give National Merit a shot, so I signed up for an SAT administration near Munich and did a bit of prep beforehand.” By using her free time to study, Lillian managed to make her second standardized test just as stress-free. She is a great example of how even the worrying issue of these tests can be easily avoided if you plan ahead of time.

If neither sophomore nor junior year appeal to you, senior year might be something to consider. By this time, you’ll have had the opportunity to get much of your college prep done beforehand and likely may feel more prepared to navigate life as an exchange student. With some schools it’s even possible to double up on classes junior year and graduate early so you don’t have to worry about getting credit abroad. This does vary by school and host country though. This is a year that would be best for people who don’t feel as attached to high school traditions at home. Going abroad senior year might mean missing out on events like graduation and senior prom. Anyone considering going abroad senior year would have to decide if they are okay with missing these American traditions, or if they would rather go abroad another year. Another important factor to bear in mind if going abroad senior year, is that in some host countries, older exchange students are placed in lower grades since the older local students are focused mostly on preparing for university. This means that it’s possible you could end up being a year or two older than your classmates.

Maybe you don’t want to miss any school in the US but still want the full experience of a year abroad. In this case, a gap year might be your best option. With a gap year, you would study abroad during the year between your senior year of high school and your first year of college, bypassing many of the potential concerns of going on exchange during high school. You could already have your college preparation and applications out of the way, and you wouldn’t have to worry about missing any experiences abroad. Another benefit is that, having already graduated, you wouldn’t have to worry about earning credit for your high school back at home. Doing a gap year can also offer some unique options not typically available during a traditional school year. For instance, with YFU you can participate in a volunteer gap year in Thailand, where you’ll live with a local host family and spend your days volunteering in various community projects.

Doing a gap year does bring its own set of considerations. Just like with going abroad senior year, you would likely be the oldest in your classes overseas, which could be difficult depending on your personality. Doing a gap year could also limit your country options, since some host countries won’t accept students who have already graduated or are over a certain age. A gap year also means that you would have to accept that you will be putting yourself a year “behind” your American peers. Still, many large universities, even Harvard, recommend taking a gap year, and doing a gap year is gradually becoming more encouraged and accepted across the country. This is a great opportunity to think more about what your career path will be and what you might be interested in studying in college!

What if none of these options sound like what you want? You have a couple options. If missing school or taking a gap year is out of the question for you, a summer exchange could be what you’re looking for. There are a few options for summer exchanges, ranging from volunteer trips to language courses to even just a traditional academic experience on a smaller scale, depending on the host country. A student who studied abroad during the summer, Alana Hendy, said that there were several positives, such as how “you don’t have to worry about earning a grade that could potentially ruin your high school career”.. Going in the summer also means summer vacation in many countries, meaning you may have more free time than year-long exchange students to explore the area. Plus, the short stay likely means things like homesickness won’t be as much as an issue. Still, Alana pointed out that going for a shorter period of time means missing out on many things, since when you go on exchange for a year, “you get to learn the language more, will experience holidays and seasons, and you can build stronger relationships with your peers and host family.” Being abroad for a whole year also makes it easier to truly feel like a local.. You would certainly go back to school with the best summer stories in your class.

Another potential alternative would be taking a winter year, which means that rather than leaving in the summer, you would leave in the winter. Not all countries offer this option. This could be a good alternative if you want to avoid a gap year but none of the other school years sound like they would work well. For example, you could leave in the winter of your junior year and return in the winter of your senior year, meaning you could easily get standardized testing out of the way before you leave, yet return in time for events like prom and graduation. Similarly, you could leave in winter of sophomore year and come back in the middle of your junior year, just in time to start preparing for college. The possibility of this option depends on both your school at home and your host country. There is the aforementioned fact that only some countries offer the option of a winter year, so it would limit your choices. If your current school runs year-round classes, this might be a difficult option because you would leave and enter classes halfway through. Just like all the other options, it would be up to you to consider if this is the right choice for you.

In the end, there is no perfect year to study abroad. It’s up to you to weigh the options and decide what is best depending on your preferred host country, your personality, and your school at home. If you’re mature for your age, maybe you’d be better off going sophomore year. Alternatively, if you’d rather be older and don’t care a whole lot about things like graduation or prom, you might be better off going senior year. If you’re looking for something in between, you could try junior year. If none of those work for you, consider a gap year or one of the other alternatives. If you really weigh your options and do your research, you will be able to figure out what would work out best for you and have the time of your life abroad!

Visit yfuusa.org/study to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!

Anna Enjoys a Gap Year in Sweden

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Ready for adventure, Anna deferred her college admission for a year and traveled to Sweden on exchange to fulfill a lifelong dream. Here's what Anna's written about her experience thus far:

"I have deferred my university admission and will be taking a gap year in Sweden for the next eleven months!” This was my usual response when asked about my future plans throughout my senior year in high school, which was usually met with dropped jaws and amazed expressions from my family and friends. As a current YFU gap year exchange student, I can wholeheartedly say that taking a gap year has been the most adventurous decision of my life to date. However it has also been my best and most life-changing decision!

This whole exchange student experience began quite some time ago - before I was born actually! My father was an exchange student in Sweden when he was in high school. Although that was back in the 80′s, I grew up knowing about his exchange experience and hearing about Sweden, along with learning about the Swedish ancestry in my family through several of my family members. So I think I had always had some sort of interest in Sweden.

Anna Wangen_US to Sweden_Gap 2013Now, speed forward several years to me at age twelve. Here come the Swedish camp years. My family had known about Concordia Language Villages for several years, but had always been a little afraid of shipping me off to camp where I didn’t know the language. So somehow during those years as a Swedish student at camp, I got the crazy idea that I wanted to be an exchange student myself. I had learned about many different exchange programs and opportunities, and did much research on my own. Still, many people balked at the idea at first. It seems most unusual and culturally unacceptable to take a gap year between high school and college to most Americans, although it is absolutely normal here in Europe. I soon discovered Youth For Understanding and their arts exchange program in Sweden. It couldn’t have been more perfect, and I filled out an application to do a gap year last August. Simultaneously, I prepared an audition repertoire and visited many colleges in order that I could defer my admission for a year at the music college of my choosing.

Needless to say, everything has worked out unbelievably smoothly and I am now enjoying an amazing year abroad in Sweden! YFU has a wonderful network overseas, and this year has been full of cultural and life lessons. From learning to ALWAYS wear my rain pants when bicycling in the rain to singing in a Santa Lucia choir, I have been able to absorb Swedish culture while simultaneously sharing American traditions such as Thanksgiving. My host family definitely enjoyed both the joyful companionship and the pumpkin pie of our classic American holiday. I cannot wait for what the rest of my exchange year has in store!

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

First Hand Gap Year Experience

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Nikole Hampton Photo 2 - Graduation“Most kids from my hometown either went straight to work or straight to college.” This may have been true for many students in Harrisville, Michigan, but Nikole Hampton wanted more after she graduated in 2008, so she decided to take a gap year between high school and college to attend high school in Sweden. “It was the best experience of my life and forever changed me for the better,” Nikole says of her year. She had been unsure of her future plans, but she was sure of one thing: she was looking for the adventure of a lifetime and she got it.

“My parents were more in support of me going to college immediately, until they looked into gap year programs with me and realized that I was really motivated to do this. I deferred my acceptance to the University of Michigan, so they were happy to know I didn’t lose this opportunity either, and then they really started to support me.” Nikole got the best of both worlds with her gap year. She was able to take a giant leap out of her comfort zone and find out what she was made of, then attend college the following year.

Nikole Hampton Photo 3 - Art ClassNikole lived with a host family outside of Stockholm and attended Nacka Gymnasium as a third year (or a senior). In Sweden, students attend school until they are around 19 years old, which meant that her classmates were the same age, which was very important to Nikole. Despite the fact that she was the same age as most of her classmates, Swedish school took some getting used to. “Swedish high school is set up more like American colleges, with weekly schedules and classes that met twice per week.  We also had the majority of classes with our ‘class,’ or about 20-30 students studying the same track.  Mine was social science and art, so that is what my classes were mostly about except for our electives.” Her classmates quickly became her closest friends. “We were like a family!” She also made friends with kids on her track team and became close with her host sister who often invited her to hang out with her friends even though they went to different schools.

One of the best memories she has was the vacation she took with her host family. “My favorite was going on a road trip with my host family and skiing! It was so beautiful and we got to spend a lot of quality time together, cooking and playing cards and such.  School and life gets crazy busy sometimes, so it was relaxing to have some time off and just spend time with each other. And be in the outdoors of course!” It is times like these that really characterize an exchange. Although Nikole’s family’s English was near perfect, eventually they only spoke Swedish to her so she could practice. “They helped me with homework and taught me lots of words before school even started! They also got me a library card too, and I spent a lot of time reading which was another good way to learn a language.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 1 - Family VacationNot only did she get the opportunity to bond with her host family, but she was also able to bond with her natural family as well! “I visited family that lived in the south of Sweden and got to learn more about my heritage and experience a very different region. I also had some family living in the Stockholm area, so I met up with them occasionally too!”

Because Nikole joined her class during their last year of school, she was able to graduate with them! “Graduation was completely different than in the U.S. We had what was called an ‘utspring’ at school after an assembly, where they called out each class and we ran out of school and looked for a poster of us that our families secretly made (I realize this sounds strange...). Then our family put presents and letters on necklaces around our necks and we went home with them, changed out of our nice clothes, and then met up with our class again on a giant flat-bed truck that went all around Stockholm and blasted music.  After that, we go home again, and our families and friends were all over for a dinner and such in honor of the new graduate.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 5 - Class PhotoNikole took a risk and challenged herself and it paid off immensely. She learned a new language, made incredible friends, even ate reindeer! Now, she is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. As a graduation present to herself, she is traveling back to Sweden this summer to visit her friends and host family, that she hasn’t seen in four years, to relive all of the wonderful memories she had there. This experience for her was unforgettable and transformative. She came back from Sweden motivated, confident and ready to continue with the ideas that ignited her passion for social issues while abroad.

Written by Zoe Colton Quotes from Nikole Hampton

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!