Ok so now that you have a basic idea of what you’d like to do, now is time to get specific and make a more detailed plan before you leave.
First, if you’re planning on attending college afterwards, make sure you apply to college as you normally would, commit to a school, pay the fee etc., and then send them an email saying you want to defer your application for a year. Chances are the admissions office will be totally cool with that, and if you have a scholarship, they’ll defer it too. This is super important to get out of the way, because you don’t want to have to go through the college process on your own while you’re trying to have fun abroad. Plus it’s always an easier process when you have your in-school resources to help you out. Then you’ll be off carefree on your adventure!
So for my year I initially planned as far as November (I was leaving for France in August of 2015 anyway for vacation with my family. Then I anticipated settling into Paris come September).
I knew I wanted to stay in Paris. I also knew Paris is hella expensive and lodging is hard to find. I started looking at apartment rentals and rooming websites to no avail. My maman became a valuable resource as she knows quite a lot of people in France, and also in Paris, and she managed to find me a place to live. Her sister has an old work friend who lives in a really nice house in the 13th arrondissement in the south of Paris with her family (best arrondissement ever but I’m biased), and she rents out her spare room to international students for a high price, but a bargain by Parisian standards because breakfast and dinner were provided, along with a laundry room.
I was thrilled. I mean this place was amazing. I had a rather large room with a big bed, a bathroom, a cute cat and a piano for around 750 euros per month, and in a safe and accessible neighborhood. Now this is expensive, but again, it was a perfect accommodation for what I was looking for. Plus because the woman’s family lived upstairs, if there was ever an emergency I wasn’t completely alone. I decided to stay until November in case I found anything cheaper (I didn’t though and ended up staying there until Barcelona which was probably best in the end!).
But this won’t be the case for everyone. If you aren’t planning on traveling or staying in one country, you might have a bigger budget because you might end up hopping from hostel to hostel which tends to be cheaper (some good advice on what to bring when staying in a hostel by my faves, Damon and Jo). Or if you happen to have friends or family in that country you might be able to stay with them for a small fee or for free if they’re really nice. So again, gap years don’t have to be expensive. If I had gone to a different city, maybe I would have spent less money on lodging.
Next I found a program that went to Barcelona via my maman (again). She worked for them in the UK as a language instructor long ago and remembered how fun it was, and suggested I consider it. It’s Education First, they have all kinds of programs in different countries, and I chose the language immersion for 3 months in Barcelona. Now another disclaimer, EF is expensive. My parents were gracious enough to cover that cost for me because they knew it was what I wanted more than anything. Otherwise along the way to planning this I didn’t ask for other money.
So I knew I’d be in Paris first, with a place to stay until November. And I knew I would go to Barcelona from February to April 2016. But I needed a job there too. What was I going to do for all that time, only ever spending money?? I needed some income.
I knew this would be the hardest part, although easier too since I have French citizenship. I searched job listings and websites like this one, sent some emails and résumés unsuccessfully. I then decided to try some networking via social media.
A good idea if you plan on spending time in another country is to look up groups on Facebook such as, in my case, “Americans in Paris” or “Expats in Paris.” Lo and behold a few weeks later a young woman posted an ad in the group for her company, Babylangues, saying that they were hiring and looking for native English speakers to teach children during the school year. I clicked on it, half expecting a scam, but not at all! I sent in my application, did a Skype interview, explained my arrival dates and flexibility, later met two families via Skype again and voilà! I was a working woman.
Now that I had a plan, I didn’t need to worry so much anymore. I could concentrate on working at my summer job and packing for my big year away from home.
So here’s what I advise you:
- Be flexible. Not everything may work out as you perfectly want it, and that’s okay. Be open to suggestions and other options.
- Plan a budget. Save up money beforehand and if you are planning to work while traveling, start looking for jobs the summer before.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just because it’s your gap year doesn’t mean everyone expects you to be an adult already. If you have resources available to you, use them.
- Use social media. The internet can be really helpful and there are plenty of people in the same boat as you looking to help each other out. Facebook groups and other online communities can offer advice and help you get on your way.
As I’ve said before, the possibilities are endless. This is your year. Sometimes planning can be frustrating, just remember you are never alone.