If you are one of those students who decided to take a gap year abroad before committing your time to an institution, you are likely to be independent, eccentric, and a global minded individual looking to expand your academic horizons beyond the classroom, and we back your decision 100%. However, what you might still need to figure out is how to exactly utilize your gap year so that you get the full benefits of personal, academic and professional growth which comes with such a decision. Well, we support that, too, literally. Here’s a look at some of the top choices in Gap Year Programs.

Health and Medicine

Serious medical students, including those who attend Ivy League Universities, often choose to take a gap year before enrolling into the demanding medicine program. With so much riding on MCAT grades, medical students find it beneficial to take the year off to focus on their studies, mentally prepare for their transition, and withdraw any doubts of taking the path to become a medical professional.

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Another great option for students to really feel confident in their decision is to enroll in a medical internship. Internships provide the hands-on, in-field experience needed to solidify your commitment to the medical industry. Medical interns participate in health campaigns in the local communities of their chosen country. The local residents benefit from the wealth of knowledge imparted by interns in relation to basic hygiene practices, disease prevention, and healthy living. Interns also distribute needed health care items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, anti-parasitic medication, vaccinations, and more.

Placements are available in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. At the moment, Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America. However, the “universal healthcare system” currently in place is still unaccessible to most people, This is especially true for the indigenous groups which make up more than 50% of the country’s total population. Indigenous groups in Guatemala go without the proper medical care and treatment, without the proper health care items, and as a result are affected more commonly by preventable diseases than others.

Therefore, if you are looking for hands-on experience that will also add value to underserved communities, an internship in Guatemala during your gap year can be the perfect option.

Anthropology & Sociology

Those with a true passion for humanity and culture will likely look into fields such as as a anthropology and sociology. This is a great option for students interested in activism, equal rights, and social work. A gap year for these students usually finds them involved in community service or volunteer work. For a global perspective of humanity, students might consider enrolling for an international volunteer program, immersing you in culture, while positively impacting a local community. You can choose to work with kids, assist with the development of needed facilities, or work alongside an indigenous tribe.

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Students looking to work with children can gain experience volunteering with kids in daycare or afterschool centers, or community centers. Volunteers ensure that children are cared and provided for as thoroughly as possible. The children you’ll be supporting oftentimes come from challenging backgrounds, therefore this project calls for patient, supportive, and compassionate volunteers. Duties include one-on-one attention, organizing games and activities for the children, hygiene education, and academic support.

Construction programs allow volunteers to actively become involved in the development of underserved neighborhoods. These volunteer programs ensure that residents in the local communities are equipped with the proper facilities needed to live a flourishing life. You may work on the construction or expansion of a neighborhood clinic, the renovation of schools and classrooms, or on the development of community centers, and homes for local residents.

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Working alongside an indigenous tribe will see you in Cusco, Peru. Peru is known for preserving their rich Inca history, and therefore, many people still live rurally among their tribes. If you choose to enroll in this indigenous community program, you will be placed with a tribe located in the Andes mountains, just outside of Cusco, Peru. Duties might include caring for the land, animals, and livestock, assisting with agricultural work, learning and assisting with traditional weaving, helping with basic maintenance and construction, or assisting teachers at the local school.

All of the programs allows for insight into the culture, traditions, and daily routines of the local people. You will interact with locals on a regular basis and have the opportunity to learn their views, beliefs, history, and ways of life. Childcare and construction programs are available in Costa Rica and Guatemala, in addition to Peru.

Hospitality & Tourism

The field of hospitality focuses on travel and tourism. What better way to gain experience in your career choice than by enrolling for a hospitality internship abroad, while traveling and touring?! International hospitality internships will give you the opportunity to work in the field, while learning about international travel trends, servicing international guests, sales and marketing, and daily operations. You might find yourself working with a boutique hotel or hostel, or a travel agency looking to utilize your knowledge, skills, and unique ideas for business development.

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Many of the partner companies find great benefit in working with interns from English speaking countries as they are able to learn a bit about your culture, and therefore develop the best strategies for marketing and servicing a specific international demographic. Your duties will likely include servicing international clients, social media marketing, updating materials, database management, sales, and more.

Internships are available in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. All 3 countries have a booming tourism industry, with an increase in tourists visiting these destinations every year. No matter the location, you will be sure to receive hands-on experience and knowledge afforded to you only through an internship abroad.

International Business & Entrepreneurship

Prospective business students are usually drawn into the field through innovation, entrepreneurship, and the economy. We know that without entrepreneurship, business would cease to exist. Therefore, it goes without saying that entrepreneurship and innovation are the backbone to any successful economy. But how does international business fit in?

As any good business student knows, the economy of a country is directly based on its financial structure, and directly relies on those of other countries, creating a giant umbrella called “the global economy”. Therefore, in order to understand economics, it is important to learn about international business. And what better way to learn about international business than through an international internship?

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Micro-business internships are a great choice for any business student interested in international business and entrepreneurship. Internship placements are with small businesses that will give you exposure into the business practices in the developing world. Internships are focused on marketing, sales and client services, and accounting. Interns work directly with small business owners and entrepreneurs to help develop business strategies, expand business to new markets, improve and develop social media marketing, train staff, and develop client communication.

Programs are available in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Interns develop knowledge of international and small business practices, while expanding their Spanish language skills to include business specific vocabulary.

Sustainability & Conservation

If you are considering the fields of sustainability and wildlife conservation, you are probably in tune with natural energies, are compassionate and passionate about all living things, and are looking to make a huge impact on the environment and humanity’s relationship to it. If so, look no further than a volunteer program in conservationism. Conservation volunteers can choose from working towards reforestation in the Amazon jungle, assisting with eco-agriculture, sea turtle conservation, or lake conservation in the majestic Lake Atitlan.

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The Amazon jungle spans through much of South America, making it the largest jungle in the world. In the 1970’s, the Amazon jungle began to be affected by deforestation for the purpose of agriculture. By the 2000’s, that purpose shifted to industrialization. By 2015, 20% of the Amazon rainforest had been trimmed away. Many conclude that the Amazon rainforest, being the largest in the world, acts as the planet’s lungs. If deforestation continues, the world faces disastrous consequences, and therefore, activists have been fighting to introduce policies which limit these devastating practices.

While regulations have slowed the rate at which the forest is being destroyed, projects to reverse the negative effects have been put in place. We call this reversal reforestation, and now you have the chance to become a part of something huge. Reforestation volunteers get involved with organic gardening, wildlife and animal monitoring, trail maintenance, and educational workshops for local communities.

Eco-Agriculture volunteer programs are perfect for those who care about organic farming and conservation practices, just as much as they love coffee! Work alongside small farmers and their communities, while learning about organic coffee farming, providing support and participating in every step of the coffee production process including growing, harvesting, processing, and packaging.

Sea turtle conservation has spiked in recent years as research of their possible extinction has become more available. With this research, we have seen an increase in sea turtle conservation projects along the Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian oceans in an effort to save one of the oldest species on the planet. Spend your days on beautiful beaches as you work to reverse the declining sea turtle population. Volunteers provide support to local biologists and researchers, participate in nightly beach patrols to ensure eggs are protected from poachers, relocate nests to safe hatcheries, tag turtles, record data, and assist with beach clean-up efforts.

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Lake Atitlan is the largest, and most beautiful lake in Central America. Unfortunately, the lake has seen better days as the effects of tourism and daily life has added to the pollution, reduction of oxygen, and toxification of the drinking water in the area. Many of the effects are due to a lack of conservation education. Volunteers are responsible for community outreach and education, restoring the surrounding hillsides through reforestation and increased soil fertilization, and environmental clean up.

All internship and volunteer programs are located in at least one of the following countries: Costa Rica, Guatemala, and/or Peru. Traveling overseas for an internship or volunteer program will provide a unique opportunity for you to get experience in your field of choice, utilize your skills for the betterment of a community, and develop new skills which can add to your value as a student and prospective employee. So do something different this time–see the world, leave an impact, and witness your growth through an internship or volunteer program abroad!