Regardless of your reasoning, that year off shouldn’t stop your education. It should invigorate and embolden it. Here are some ideas for accomplishing just that.
Leave your geographical comfort zone
Like attracts like, and during the school phase of our lives we tend to seek out friendships and situations that resonate with us. We live in a “like bubble,” which insulates us from the rest of the world. Breaking through that bubble can be an important part of maturation; it can also add important context to your education. The easiest way to do that is to spend your year in a part of the country as different from your experience as possible – if you grew up in Mississippi, try Seattle; if you grew up in New York City, try small-town Nebraska; if you grew up in Portland, try Miami. Work, get to know people, make friends, and engage in the culture. You’ll come back richer.
Do a job you know nothing about
If you’re planning to pursue graduate or professional school after you take your year off, you are most likely setting yourself up for a career in which your value will derive from your expertise. But as you move forward in that career, knowing what to do will only get you so far. True success comes from knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. In other words – how do you react when you’re wrong, when you’re incompetent to complete a task, or when you fail?
A year is not only long enough to get a start at something completely new. If you apply yourself, it’s long enough to get good at it. That “new” thing could be carpentry; it could be landscaping; it could be painting; it could be assembling machines. Whatever it is, make it something you’re interested in. (You are going to walk away from that year with a skill.) The most important thing you’ll gain, however, is experience with failure.
Live in a great city
The United States is home to some of the greatest cities on earth. New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and many other cities deliver a unique, world-class experience. Because of that, people want to live there. If you’ve always really, really wanted to live somewhere, a year off is a great time to just go for it. It’s temporary, so you won’t have the stress of starting out. And a year is long enough to get a feeling for any city, especially if you take the time to listen.
Go on a mission
If your aim is to expand your mind and experience, and if you have a deep religious conviction yourself, a year spent doing mission work can alter your life. Most major denominations have well established student mission programs, and although the goal is to help others with their lives and religious experience, many alumni of those programs come back feeling that the greatest change they saw was in themselves. Becoming intimate with the nuances of a vastly different culture, exerting yourself every day in the ministry of your faith, and devoting yourself to something unselfish can have that effect.
The large-scale food systems that delivers apples to grocery stores, salami to delis, and fish to restaurants around the world is extraordinarily intricate and not without its imperfections. Smaller food systems, from local produce to personal gardens, are becoming increasingly popular, and many suggest that they are the wave of the future. (Why rely on food engineers and marketers to sell you what you can grow perfectly well in your own back yard?) Farming for a year will not only teach you skills that can help you to stay healthier through your life, it’s also hard work – which means better exercise.
However, don’t just get a job as a laborer on a large, commercial farm. Move to a place where the sustainable food system movement and community supported agriculture are burgeoning, where you can get your hands dirty and plant seeds of knowledge in your mind.