Gap Years on Instagram!

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With the second semester of most gap year programs beginning it’s exciting to see what students are experiencing in the field. Are you following the Instagram feeds of GYA member organizations yet?

Here are a few great images from the last few weeks:

Follow Global Citizen Year on Instagram


Follow High Mountain Institute on Instagram

GYA High Mountain

Follow Outward Bound on Instagram

GYA Outward Bound

Follow Pacific Discovery on Instagram

GYA Pacific Discovery

Follow Thinking Beyond Borders on Instagram


Gap Years on Instagram!

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Watching Gap Year students take off on exciting adventures is always a blast! This month on Instagram programs are launching and students are making the world their classroom. Check out some of the cool things that are happening and follow their programs on Instagram!

Follow EnRoute Consulting on Instagram


Follow The Leap on Instagram


Follow Where There Be Dragons on Instagram

Where there be Dragons

Follow Winterline Global Skills on Instagram


Follow Rustic Pathways on Instagram

rustic pathways

Follow Outward Bound on Instagram

outward bound

First Annual AGA Gap Year Awards are Presented to…

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One of the exciting additions to the International Gap Year Conference, in Denver, this year was the inaugural presentation of awards. Delighted by the numerous nominations, the conference committee was pleased to present the following awards for Innovation, Research, Accessibility, and Advancing the Movement.

Excellence & Equity in Accessibility

This award is presented to an individual or corporate body that has pushed the boundaries in expanding equity and accessibility in the Gap Year movement, creating greater opportunities for students overcoming obstacles.

Global Citizen Year

Global Citizen Year is actively working to democratize travel and dispel the myth that a Gap Year is “just for rich kids.” Recognizing that talent is universal but opportunity is not GCY has built a program that honors that ethos.

To date, 80% of Global Citizen Year Fellows have received some level of need-based financial aid, and 30% have received a fully-funded scholarship. This year alone, Global Citizen Year will provide over $2M in scholarships to low-income participants. Perhaps the most telling statistics regarding the diversity of our their Fellow cohort are that 47% are eligible to receive Pell Grants for college and 45% self-identify as people of color.

Global Citizen Year’s commitment to access means the next generation of new leaders will increasingly reflect the diversity of our country.

Karl Haigler Excellence in Gap Year Research Award

corinne guidi
Honoring the long standing work and commitment to research in the Gap Year community, pioneered by Karl Haigler, the first presentation of this award was made by Karl.

Corinne Guidi

Corrinne Guidi is on the AGA Research Committee and has been working through Nina Hoe’s National Alumni Survey to draw out more meaningful data. Focusing on a qualitative study on Alumni Student Outcomes, Corinne has been mining through nearly 500 open-ended survey questions, brining to life the words of alumni from the deep well of data.

Corinne’s deep work is acknowledged through this reward for taking the NAS data to another level.

Advancing the Gap Year Movement

This award is presented to an individual or corporate body who has demonstrated a commitment to advancing the Gap Year movement, from within as well as externally.

Robin Pendoley, Thinking Beyond Borders

Robin has served as co-founder, curriculum director, and now CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders for almost 10 years. During this time he has established TBB as one of the most well-respected Gap Year organizations in the field, all the while lending an important voice to the field as a whole.

As a co-director of the USA Gap Year Fairs for 5 years, Robin helped oversee the expansion of the fairs to the thriving fair circuit and turnout we see today. As a founding board member for AGA, Robin sought to bring his expertise in programming and pedagogy to the standards process, as well as his influence to bring around other members of the industry to the importance of a national accrediting body. Under Robin’s leadership, TBB became the first AGA-accredited organization when the process began in 2013.

Robin has played a pivotal role in the Gap Year movement in helping to revolutionize what overseas travel for Gap Year students can be–beyond just service hours and voluntourism–but genuine authentic engagement that seeks to develop the essential skills and capacities students need to lead exceptional social impact careers. An educator first and foremost, Robin has pioneered an educational institution that goes beyond the theoretical confines of traditional education, one that facilitates rigorous learning environments that engage with the world, examine its challenges, and place students alongside leaders who are committed to finding solutions to critical global issues.

Robin continues to provide a thoughtful and reflective voice in the national media, advocating for the value of gap years through his blog series on the transition to college at Psychology Today, the social impact sector at Forbes, and profiling TBB’s work in the Harvard Ed School magazine. All of this exposure has one common theme: helping to highlight the legitimate educational value that well-structured and intentional programs can provide to students.

Innovation in Programming

This award is given in recognition of significant innovation in some aspect of programming, recognizing an individual or corporate contribution to thinking outside the box and moving the community forward.

Julia Rogers, En Route Consulting

Julia’s relentless commitment to improving outcomes for students and advancing the Gap Year cause is well known within the community. As an IEC who works closely with both students and programs, she has worked hard to overcome obstacles for students and create unique solutions and opportunities for individual success within their Gap Year plans.

This year, Julia pioneered Gap Year Decision Day, May 25, and has rallied community support to further amplify the voices of students and Gap Year advocates on a larger scale.


A hearty congratulations to all of the recipients of the 2017 AGA Gap Year Awards. Thank you, deeply, for your service and your commitment to the community. Your example sets a high bar for excellence in all aspects of the industry.

Dominique Robinson of Pizarts: On Breaking Ground with Dance Gap Years

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One of the great things about the AGA National Conference is the connections we make with new people. Among the bright lights in Boston this year was Dominique Robinson. I noticed her smile first, and her enthusiasm followed closely behind. She’s got a passion for life, a passion for learning and a big idea: to create a Gap Year experience centered around dance and the arts. Based in NYC, she came to the conference hoping to learn and connect.

Please tell us who you are, what you do, and how you got there.

My name is Dominique Robinson, I am a choreographer, dance filmmaker, and the CEO of Pizarts. Growing up I enjoyed sports and being part of a team. I also have a deep passion for travelling so when I transitioned from sports to dance I knew I could pursue dance as a career that would allow me to do what I love which is travel around the world and meet new people.

Why are you so passionate about the concept of Gap Years?

I began my training in college and although it was a good experience the first three years were overwhelmingly tough. I lacked confidence in myself and it was terrifying to share my ideas. One summer I studied dance in Argentina and after the trip I knew that I wanted to collaborate with artists on a global scale. A few years later I moved back to Argentina where I taught, performed and traveled for 18 months. This transformation led me to discover my passion which was education and so I decided to further my studies.

Graduate school was a completely different experience because I knew exactly what I wanted to study, I could express myself with confidence and I can honestly say that it would not have been possible without taking what I consider myself as an independent Gap Year. I am so passionate about Gap Year because I know that I would have retained so much more from my undergraduate program had I come into school with a Gap Year under my belt.

Pizarts may just be the only Gap experience of its kind.

Tell us a bit about what you’re doing with that and your vision for the future.

Yes, I do believe it is one of a kind and that is partly what drove me to pursue it. Dance Gap Year is a program designed for trained dancers where they get to experience the joy of taking a Gap Year without having to neglect the demands of their training. It combines a curriculum inspired by BA (pedagogy and arts management) and BFA (choreography and performance) degree tracks while including projects that impact the social and personal lives of participants and locals.

Students who take our Gap Year immerse themselves in all aspects of a dance career before entering directly into the audition world or entering a program in higher education. We have a short-term summer program for teens 13-17 and in the fall of 2017, we will have our first 7 month Gap Year for ages 18-25 that will include North America, South America and Asia. Through this experiential process dancers will explore things like dance film, theater, site location composition, integrated arts (movement and literacy), curating works on a budget and women’s empowerment through movement.

Our vision for the future is to set up programs that focus on specific techniques. Ballet dancers for example need to train many hours in ballet. By offering a travel program for dancers to explore different techniques such as RAD, Checcetti, Vaganova and Bornenville, I believe, will allow a unique opportunity for participants to expand their horizons.

You’re in the beginning stages of getting Pizarts off the ground

Can you talk a little bit about that process, your biggest struggles, the connections you’ve made and your process from dream to dancing around the world?

While finishing my last semester at NYU, I entered the ‘Entrepreneurs Challenge’ at Stern School of Business. I am the type of person who needs benchmarks or my mind will wonder so this challenge was the beginning of establishing a concrete plan. Since I have a large following in Argentina within the dance community, I felt Gap Year represented what I was looking for in terms of my passion and interest as a start-up.

To learn more, I went to a Gap Tear fair where I met Holly Bull who told me that dance had been an interest of a recent client and that she would put me in touch with people who could provide me with helpful advice on starting a program.

The greatest struggles include finding resources in the area of logistics like contracts, safety measures and how to devise affordable programming. Nevertheless, going to the Gap Year conference really helped me network with trusted groups that otherwise I don’t believe I would have met on my own.

Tell me a success story

A life changed as a result of a your work, or something you were involved in.

In dance, a lot of issues surround the non-compete clause for both teachers and students. The hardest thing I ever experienced as a teacher was watching a student, after 8 months of private training, be given a harsh ultimatum. Stop training with me or leave the studio she performed at. I explained that I would be leaving in a few months but she thought it was an unfair situation, as did I, and decided to stand up for herself.

When nationals came around I told her I would take her to competition. To see her separated from her studio friends was devastating and I could see the hurt in her eyes. I insisted that this would be life changing because she decided to breakout and be the dancer and person she believed in. She won first place at nationals for her solo and her friends were proud of her, I was proud of her and now she has become one of the most sought out teachers in Argentina and works as a Gap Year guest choreographer.

I am not sure I would have had the courage she had but I am so proud to say that this experience has created another educator who believes that knowledge is to be shared and not controlled. For me, this was a proud moment and proof that we are working towards something special, something life changing, something for the greater good.

Willy Oppenheim of Omprakash: On Raising the Bar for Service Learning

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Willy O
One of the presentations I attended at the AGA Annual Conference in Boston was on Service Learning, presented by Willy Oppenheim of Omprakash. His reputation as a powerhouse presenter, a passionate humanitarian and an adventurer extraordinaire preceded him. I was not disappointed.

I walked away from his presentation inspired and grateful that someone was standing up to say the hard things and encourage the community towards a higher standard across the board. Service learning is a sticky subject in the Gap Year world and there are plentiful examples of failures in the field doing more harm than good. It was encouraging to see so many of the organizations in the AGA community present at the table to discuss the potential for growth for the good of volunteers, organizations, and the world.

I came away from that session wanting to know more, about Willy, about Omprakash, and about his zeal for service learning, so I scheduled an interview for a May afternoon and we had a chat.

1. Please tell us who you are, what you do, and how you got here.

Primarily, I identify as an educator, holistically. The Latin root of educate is to Lead Out, and educator works with others in leading out, broadening and expansion. The work that I do through Omprakash, and as an outdoor educator as well, leading expeditions for young people from a variety of backgrounds for a few weeks to a month in the mountains is focused on expansion and education. If I’d been born a hundred years ago, maybe I would have been a minister, instead I’m an educator.

I grew up in Maine with four sisters, in a loving family, surrounded by lots of nature, fishing and hiking with my Dad, which lead me to where I am now. I live in Seattle and have a desk job but also easy access to the mountains and glaciers of the west coast.

I hated school, at the time, because it didn’t feel relevant to the world. Of course as I grew that binary thinking has collapsed and I no longer see schooling as separate from the world. In sixth grade I resolved to not go straight to college but, instead, to take some time off. In high school I became interested in volunteering in India. Naive idealism and romanticism built into that but my intuitions were correct: the best way to experience another place and to learn is not to be part of a group trip, but to just go and immerse and live there and be challenged.

I was not interested in highly chaperoned expensive group trip, but there weren’t a lot of resources for independently minded young people. So, I emailed this school directly, with no middle man, and asked for a teaching job, and got it. That experience was transformative for me and became the catalyst for creating Omprakash later. It shouldn’t be that hard to connect with local, grass roots projects.

2. Why are you so passionate about the concept of Gap Years?

Because it was so transformative for me. Interrupting the conveyor belt is really helpful for everyone. It allows young people to develop parts of their identity that they don’t have to confront when they are on the conveyor belt. Formal education provides you a very very easy framework for self validation, you can get through and manage not know anything about who you are or what you want or where you are going; as long as you get good grades you’re okay.

People go their whole lives and don’t ask these questions, and then one day they find they’re forty five before they ask “What am I doing with my life?” Any disruption to that path is helpful. A trip. A summer job doing blue collar work (as a white collar kid). We have to get young people out of a context where success is defined by extrinsic measures that are provided for you. The value of a gap year on a social, emotional spiritual level is that it removes the extrinsic measures and motivators and forces you to ask the bigger questions.

3. Omprakash takes a very unique approach to “placement” and to volunteering abroad.

Can you talk a little bit about this, why you do things differently and the benefits to both organizations and students?

Omprakash is named after a person, an elderly man in a hospice center in North India; I met him in 2004 while volunteering there. He inspired me because the conditions he lived in were, from my perspective, pretty depressing.

One day he said to me: “I wake up every day and I feel like I’m in paradise because the people here take such good care of me.”

This was a light bulb moment for me because I had suspicions about the paradigm of help=giving stuff away, and this approach as I was observing it didn’t sit well with me, but couldn’t articulate an alternative. Without meaning to, this man showed me that relationships and bringing people together is transformational… relationships are what matters.

The dominant model is volunteering on Gap Years is placements, which means there is a middle man, or organization, arranging a relationship between person and the volunteer organization, for a fee. I believe that that model is disempowering to the individuals and the organizations being served. It short circuits dialog between them, and the middle man has a disincentive to allow dialog.

Why is it disempowering?

Because it’s not too much to ask for an 18 year old to actually apply for a position. They should have to apply for these jobs, to prove their worth and demonstrate their value to the organizations. Additionally, it’s disempowering to organizations seeking volunteers because they should be able to choose someone who is useful and meets a need they actually have, and they should make those determinations, not the middle man.

4. Raising the ethical bar for service learning is something you’re passionate about.

Can you talk a bit about what you see across the industry and how improvements might be made?

Remove the Middle Man

We should be promoting direct contact between people and organizations that are locally led who are posting real positions that they need filling. Connecting with real people on the ground and facilitating real dialog. That’s what Ompraskash does.

Better Preparation & Curriculum

We should be doing a better job of preparing people to be in the field, including serious requirements for Pre Departure, In the Field, and Post Experience reflective learning and curriculum. I worry about the forms of knowledge production implicit in placement model. There is no deliberate pedagogical attempt to produce other forms of knowledge acquisition.

Every student shows up with baggage… colonialism, racism, ethnocentrism. If a provider is not deliberately working with that baggage to create a different understanding and they don’t have a clear curriculum, or pedagogical model, they are perpetuating those damaging narratives without addressing the deeper issues of global inequality and that is unethical.

5. What is the biggest challenge your organization faces and how are you solving it?

The biggest challenge we face is that all of these things I’ve critiqued are so embedded that many people don’t see them as a problem at all. That’s not a unique burden, but in particular, focusing on education piece, there are dozens of people out there selling short term trips with no pre departure curriculum and no need to be critical thinkers. It’s just a matter of signing up to go help poor children for two weeks. This is a model we are trying to deconstruct and that’s a big challenge.

In comparison to that we are questioning a volunteer’s motives, requiring up front work, and personal investment. It’s a better way to approach service, but it’s difficult from a marketing perspective.

6. Tell me a success story: a life changed as a result of Omprakash.

Ian Pounds is a guy who’s 50 years old or so.

Through Omprakash he went to work in Afghanistan in 2006 was there six months, subsequently he went back several times. Now lives and works at a university in Bangladesh. He worked for a long time with the organization in Afghanistan raising thousands of dollars for a school in Kabul through taking kids on a speaking tour of USA

Michelle Kincaid, is a current freshman after her Gap Year.

Everything else was too expensive for her, she did a Gap Year through Omprakash. Her host partner in Peru said she was one of the best volunteers they ever had and that EDGE had helped prepare her. Her overall success was due to being immersed in a local organization for six months in Lima. Part of the reason she was able to have that immersive experience was proper pre departure curriculum. She really liked a lot of the content in the curriculum, so much so that she asked if she could use that to facilitate discussion on the ground in Peru with locals about the role of volunteers on the ground.

Uttam Teron, who lives in Assam NE India.

He started a school, with 16$ and a handful of students. Today he has 5-600 kids he attributes the growth to Omprakash. He was able o put the school on the map through Omprakash and the series of volunteers who came helped him with fundraising. Omprakash certainly isn’t responsible, solely, for the growth of the school, but it’s a privileged to have helped!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

At Omprakash, we are a social enterprise. We are not a charity, and we are not looking for handouts. We have a product we sell. I believe the customer is not always right, he’s almost always wrong because of the embedded fallacies.

I do think it’s worth questioning the market forces that are at play in the production of the Gap Year experience. Ethics are tied to the bottom line not as a guiding principles.

A big part of my message to the AGA members and affiliates is that consortiums like AGA can support each other to grow the pie bigger. But another perspective and important function is to hold each other accountable towards a set of standards and principles that are separate from the market, the bottom line and what people want; otherwise all we will be doing is perpetuating the status quo. I’m not that interested doing that. At the end of the day, having good intentions doesn’t mean a whole lot. There should be a higher level of accountability.

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