Over the holidays many 17-21 year olds will be talking about their future with their immediate and extended family. The concept of a gap year can be hard to discuss as it is often difficult to get the whole family on board with such a non-traditional way of approaching education. Here are a few conversation starters for you and your family:
#1 WHY SHOULD ANY STUDENT TAKE A GAP YEAR?
There are many reasons that students are choosing to take a year between high school and college. Each student has their own way of explaining this. Here are a few of the reasons we stumble upon most frequently.
-I want more real world experience before I re-engage the academic classroom.
-I'm burned out on my studies.
-I'm not convinced I've found where I want to focus my undergraduate work or what university to attend.
-I know what I want to do but I want to see it firsthand before studying another four years.
Extended adolescent development today has resulted in the undergraduate experience being a bit of a babysitter experience for professors. Today's 18 year old college freshman often carries the maturity level of a 14-15 year old of yesteryears. So it makes sense to address this process in an atmosphere where maturity can be developed.
#2 WHAT WOULD THE KIVU GAP YEAR DO FOR ME?
We continue to pursue measurable indicators of how our graduates respond to their experiences with us. We have found correlations in the following areas:
Life Thesis Paper—Students write and present a fully developed analysis of their entire year of travel at the end of the program. They articulate what they learned at each destination, what they discovered about their gifts and passions, and how they want to move forward in their future studies and vocational goals.
Internship Resume---Students develop a professional resume reflecting their 900 hours of work experience across six destinations. This document has been found to be useful towards petitioning schools for scholarships as well as showing future employers their distinctiveness.
Personal Identity Development---Students in this season of life are still trying to understand who they are and what they want to do. Therefore, we spend over 150 hours in reflective exercises that examine the student’s self-understanding. Through a variety of tests (such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, Cultural Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, Sacred Pathways, and Five Love Languages), workshops, and exercises, we afford students the space and time to know their own self in a more genuine way. Graduates walk away with a strong emotional intelligence of both who they are and who they are not.
Money and Time Management---Students examine values of money and time across multiple cultural contexts. As a result, they develop a unique understanding of the value of the dollar and an understanding of the challenges presented to those living on the margins of society. Students also see how time is valued and managed in different cultural settings. Thus, our graduates walk away with greater discernment towards how they manage both their time and their money.
Leadership Development---Students are placed in internships that demand responsibility, consistency, and maturity. Having examined multiple work environments, students begin to identify effective ways of leading and being led within an organizational structure. Combined with a growing self-knowledge, our graduates come away with confidence in their abilities to lead through their strengths.
Spiritual Development--Students give a year of space and time to let God speak into their lives. Having witnessed the faith of others around the world, our graduates walk away with the ability to make their faith their own. Often times, it is the people they have met around the world who have encouraged them to follow wholeheartedly in the way of Jesus. Having moved through a ‘critical season’ of doubt and reflection, our graduates are more grounded than ever before in their faith.
#3 HOW DO THEY ADDRESS ISSUES OF SAFETY?
At Kivu, we believe this question should be one of the first to be asked and examined thoroughly.
We employ three layers of support (group travel, on site field staff, In country supervisors) that facilitate program implementation in addition to functioning as a proactive system of prevention. While safety can never be guaranteed, our program believes that careful procedures and preventative measures can curb the likelihood of our students finding themselves in compromising or dangerous situations. At each destination, students are given a proper orientation (formal or informal) to their surroundings conducted by local staff living in the community.
We do not take students into conflict zones and carry both international and travel insurance to cover the program should we need to respond appropriately. Additionally, students do not travel to destinations where our full time staff have not spent significant time building friendships with local partnerships. For this reason, we feel as though we are sending students to homes and families that warmly welcome their presence.
#4 WHAT WILL THIS INVESTMENT REQUIRE?
A gap year is an investment for a year that will reap a lifetime of reward. We've had families look us in the eye at our closing ceremony each year and tell us this is the best money they've ever invested in their children. The program continues to be transformative for both the student on the journey and their family and friends back home.
The financial cost of the program can be offset by engaging in a fundraising campaign that has helped students offset their fees by up to 60%. The payment plan is stretched out over the course of seven monthly installments to make it less burdensome. We believe the student should be engaged in the support raising process at some level to take responsibility for the program fees. It also begins to teach the student how to engage with donors and learn the value of this skill set for the rest of their lives.
Last week we had a class on different streams of faith. We visited a few denominations of churches around Denver that represented some of the different streams. We were amazed by how many different beautiful churches were within such a small radius.
The first church we went to was a Messianic Jewish church
In the past few weeks our students have been able to see Christian faith from a variety of angles. Every week, many of them have attended churches whose worship styles drastically differ from the churches in which they were raised. Some of these churches even disagree theologically from the faith backgrounds our students come from. Why are we exposing them to such wide-ranging churches instead of focusing on one?
In art, a form of painting called cubism developed in the early 20th century. This form of avant-garde expressionism saught to see objects simultaneously from various viewpoints instead of stationary in one moment of time. Picasso and Braque, cubisms founders and most famous subscribers, used multiple points of view to give a holistic interpretation of the subject. Some of the most interesting sculptures, paintings, and even literary works from this period follow that theme.
In the same way, by exposing our students to so many streams of faith, we are able to give them a holistic view of the tapestry of the Christian tradition. By giving them the backgrounds on so many denominations, they can see the Church for what it is: our mother and the vessel of Christ's salvation for all people. My favorite class so far took the students to several churches and we toured their sanctuaries. For many, this was their first trip in a Greek Orthodox sanctuary, or even a Lutheran church. It raised a lot of questions, and answered even more. As we all seek unique paths to God, we have more in common than we realize.
Last weekend we got to practice silence and solitude in a labyrinth in Evergreen, CO. One path in, one path out, and the only way to figure out how to get from a to b was to follow the path in front of you.
It was a unique experience of silence and making time to listen to God despite the freezing weather!
It spurred good conversation and community as we treated ourselves to hot chocolate in a local coffee shop afterwards.
This is an exciting time for our students. If you are reading their blogs, you are seeing young people who are being changed by the goodness of God and the strength of community.
We went on a retreat in the mountains a couple of weekends ago. We went through an exercise discovering our spiritual autobiographies. This was an exercise which led most of our students to become extremely vulnerable and open with other--a scary prospect for most. We grow the closest to God when we hear our friends share in our struggles. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Our students are learning to be strong with one another and to see themselves as important parts of a beautiful community of broken people--the church.
"Our greatest strength lies in the gentleness and tenderness of our heart," Rumi wrote. The poet was commenting on how those people who are most vulnerable and compassionate are actually the strongest and most secure. It is a weird, seemingly antithetical fact of life. To be strong, we must become weak.
Scripture teaches that God is strongest in our weakness. We grow by feeling smaller. We become closer to Perfection when we admit our imperfection. Growing open is true growth, and it is something the Gap Year students are mastering.
Today we have been going through mid-term evaluations. We take each student and talk about what he or she is doing well, and invite them to grow further in other areas. This has been an amazing week, as we are also hearing stories from them and about what they are learning and how this semester is bringing them closer to who God wants them to be. Through all this, one emotion keeps turning in my stomach.
These students are having an amazing time. They are learning about themselves. They are meeting the needs of many and interacting with real people who exist so far outside of their prior sphere of influence and I am jealous. I don't get to do that. I don't go to the internships or interact as much with the people on the streets of Denver. I see how much they are growing and how much God is shaping them and I am jealous.
It's an amazing program. As much as I know now, I knew absolutely zilch and learned nothing at 18. The Kivu Gap Year is amazing because it allows these students to drink out of a fire hydrant and then, when it's over, they will spend a long time processing what just happened. The things they are learning--how to understand themselves and interact with others--are things people spend their entire life trying to learn.
The Gap Year is an amazing experience. It allows students to grow, without forcing them to sit in a classroom and take dictation. It's not school, but it is a better classroom than I ever had. My experiences with these students and their stories have made me a believer in this program. I know I'm supposed to be someone they can learn from, and look to as a mentor, but I'm still jealous.
Last Friday we took the students to two of my favorite sections of Denver. Each week, we engage in a new culture within the city that we may not be familiar with. Friday, we picked hipsters. I laughed when I found out we were doing this, because I've never considered myself worth studying and apparently I fit into the hipster mold. According to Wikipedia, hipsters are an urban subculture of young adults. It's hard to put a finger on what a "hipster" actually means, because there are so many ideals and values which can be seen all over hipsterdom.
That said, wikipedia also mentions that hipsters seem to "fetishize the authentic." That phrase is the one which encompasses so much of what the hipster movement might be about. The world is becoming more synthetic, plastic, and cyber-reality is replacing actual reality in importance. The obvious pendulum swing is back to a more authentic time and place. So many of the hipster clichés are really attempts at living a more authentic life. Commuting by bicycle, especially bikes with fixed gears or no gears, is one attempt at authenticity. Recycling clothes through thrift stores and wearing flannels, wools, and raw denims are also attempts to recapture some sort of authenticity.
In food, this search for authenticity usually leads to a desire to "know where your food comes from" which is where the organic and whole foods movements have lead us. Many hipsters are now known as "locavores"--people who choose to only eat locally sourced foods or at locally owned restaurants or coffee shops. I saw a sticker that summarized this feeling: "chains belong on bikes, not coffee shops."
So what does all this mean? What is the purpose of walking through art districts and coffee shops trying to understand hipster culture?
We wanted to show the students how these people live, and how people who live down the street from us might have completely different ideals and dreams. We can learn from the hipsters in Denver. We can learn to appreciate expression, freedom, authenticity, and the desire to work a crummy job if it means you gain independence.
Each week our cultural engagements are times for students to see life through the lens of someone else. Last week it was graffiti culture, this week hipsters, on Friday we will go to an African American heritage museum. Each time we learn to appreciate other cultures, and each time we glean lessons from our neighbors, we become more well-rounded citizens of the world. We gain empathy for people we would normally not consider. We learn to love our neighbor and to see ourselves in his or her culture.