Study Abroad: Stephen Snyder graduated from the University of Michigan in spring 2010 and is now an alumni ambassador for the Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS). CLS enables current students and recent grads to study for approximately two months at an overseas institution in one of 13 languages deemed critical for United States diplomatic, trade or security purposes.
Says Snyder: "For me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit a country to which I never otherwise would have been. CLS was an unparalleled opportunity to build up foreign language skills by immersing myself in a foreign country. … Not to mention, it was a fully covered scholarship, so I was lucky enough to not have to pay any expenses out of my own pocket."
Volunteer Abroad: Government programs such as the Peace Corps offer opportunities to work and learn in 77 developing countries.
Not sure where to start? Here are some great resources:
JETProgramme.org (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program)
ISVOnline.org (International Student Volunteers)
Pro No. 2: It amps up your resume.
Taking a gap year can make your resume more attractive, especially if your gap year plan leads you toward a relevant career goal. That extra experience will position you as a well-rounded candidate -- giving you an edge over your competition in the applicant pool.
However, Snyder warns, "Make sure that, if you spend two months partaking in professional development, you have a clear plan to integrate it into your career. For example, going abroad to develop an intermediate knowledge of Chinese might not help you if your career plan is wildly unrelated." If it is related, "by living and breathing a foreign language, you build up a unique skill set that sets you apart from other candidates on the job markets," says Snyder.
It is important to keep in mind why you've chosen a particular career path. Ask yourself: What are my main objectives? What do I want to accomplish, and to what do I want to contribute my time? If you graduated with a degree in marine biology, say, perhaps an eco-travel tour is more your speed -- and more conducive to your career goals.
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