ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Plan a Year Abroad for a Gap Year

Updated on October 29, 2014

Recently I read an article about how more high school graduates are taking a year off before entering college to have a gap year. Some colleges see 15-25 students who enroll after their gap year. The challenge that colleges are finding are that gap-year students are taking a year off to work, and often do not further their academics or are less likely to complete their postsecondary education. After earning a paycheck, these individuals face challenges of being motivated to go back to school or be accepted for some schools. Some gap-year programs that offer a plan that are recommended by school administrations are the best bet for these kids.

Twenty years ago I was ahead of the trend and spent the year after high school as a Rotary exchange student in Germany. The greatest difference between what I did and what other students are doing for their gap year is that I had a plan, one that shaped my adult life.

Learn More about High School Exchange Programs

I started learning about the different high school exchange programs when my family hosted a Belgian girl in the early 80s. Heidi visited through the AFS (American Field Service) program. She spoke perfect English and brought a fresh approach to living to our household. She found our way of living quirky, but endearing. After that, my sisters went to high school, befriended the exchange students each year, and before long, our home became one of the meeting places for exchange students in the area. I can remember occasions when "Ecuador" played piano with "Japan" and "Sweden" played badminton over the clothesline with "South Africa".

One of my older sisters was the first in the family to become a Rotary exchange student. Rotary International also has a long history in their student exchange programs. Many of the local clubs host foreign students and send local students abroad each year. Though my sister's first choice was Japan, she was still thrilled to have her second choice of Australia. Before email and Skype, we communicated through monthly phone calls and numerous letters. In true baby-sister fashion, I wanted to do the same thing she did. I wanted to go to Germany as it was the land of our ancestors and the language I chose to study in high school for four years.

While those two organization were common in my area, they are not the only ones. It is easy to search the Internet for related keywords like "student exchange" or "foreign exchange student", but speaking with students and families who are familiar with exchange programs can share insight about pros, cons, and the legitimacy of a program.

The High School Exchange Experience

As a high school exchange student in a suburb of Bonn, Germany, I was enrolled in a German Gymnasium, or college-preparatory school. Even though I already graduated from high school in the United States, I was placed in the 11th grade and studied with my peers. I took History, Biology, Mathematics, German, Art, Music, Chemistry, French, Gym, and Religion. I already met all of my academic requirements I needed for high school graduation and college admissions, I was expected to actively participate and complete assignment in all of my classes.

What I learned in my year abroad was the difference of perspective. I discovered how "streaming" students worked in the education system from fifth grade on and how much more the 16-year olds in this kind of school knew compared to when I was a high school junior. My math class, for example, taught me about trigonometry, an area of math I did not study in the United States until I was in college.

My friends learned a great deal about me and gained a perspective of my country. A handful of my German classmates had already been exchange students themselves or had connection in the United States, but the majority were just learning that not every person or location in my country was like that portrayed in movies and television. Though my friendship with other exchange students in my school or region of the country did not help in my language acquisition, we were able to compare our experiences to determine what was cultural and what was individual.

The Big Difference Between High School Exchange Programs and College Study Abroads

High school exchange programs are immersion experiences for students to learn among their peers. The focus is not so much the studies, but the awareness and acceptance of different cultures. The exchange students become ambassadors of their country and bring what they learn abroad back to their peers at home. Their language fluency and tolerance of people who may differ than their community are skills that cannot easily be duplicated in a traditional classroom or online program. What exchange students learn in one year can help them decide with more confidence what they want to pursue for a major.

Study abroad programs are opportunities for college students to study at a partner school of their college or university. While many students travel to different countries to attend courses in a different country and learn a different language in order to interact with the locals, their courses are part of an Americanized program or conducted primarily in English. This is a part of their educational plan, but as part of their major.

Cost of Exchange Programs

It is important to research the different types of exchange programs and get an idea of the cost. Many programs charge a program fee that can get into the thousands of dollars. When I was an exchange student with Rotary, we were responsible for the plane ticket, insurance, and any incidentials prior to departure, like passport, visa expenses, etc. In some cases, outbound exchange students are eligible for scholarships to help with such costs.

Those costs can get a student to their destination, but there are more costs and fees that can incur. Some students may need school uniforms, public transportation passes, and other items that are not covered by the organization or the host family. Students can open a bank account so that they can have a safe place for a monthly allowance. Family members can wire money to their child abroad or the organization may offer a stipend for small expenses. A credit card can help in case of emergencies or large purchases. I had my own card when I was abroad to buy a train pass for long-distance trips or souvenirs. My parents gave me their blessings to use it, but I used it sparingly.

As a guest in a host family's home, it is not polite to expect them to pay for everything. They have agreed to provide housing, food, and sometimes they will invite students to events, museums, and other places in which they will treat. Open communication is important so that there are no awkward moments later. When I first talked to my host parents before I left for Germany, they told me that they had already made plans for a trip to Turkey for their fall vacation. I was welcome to join them, however they asked that I pay for my own plane ticket. We were able to plan ahead and budget for the trip and I enjoyed their hospitality and guidance in a country I would have not otherwise visited.

Inexpensive Ways to Treat a Host Family

  • Cook dinner for them. I brought taco seasoning packets from home and made them an easy Mexican dinner for them to try.
  • Invite them to an event or museum and pay for admission. If there is something you want to do, like a museum, outdoor fair, or something in your host town, ask them to join you and offer to pay for their entrance fees as a thank-you for all they do.
  • Share your skill. If you play an instrument, perform for them. If you are good at art, draw a picture for them. When they are busy with work or school, as you will be too, show them that you appreciate them with a kind gesture.

Plan a Gap-Year Abroad

High school exchange programs can last a month, a semester, or a year. Some students are able to transfer their credit from a foreign school, but gap-year students do not have to worry about graduation requirements.

The best resources for exchange programs are the students who have returned from their year abroad or exchange students currently in your area high schools. They can advise if they have had good luck with their coordinators and if they have received support from their organization. Rotary International has clubs all over the world and have years of experience working with exchange students. Other organizations have similar good experiences and support for youth abroad. Gap-year students will gain more from a structured plan abroad than spending a year at home working minimum wage and wondering what they will do with their lives.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)