Ada Ameller
September 24, 2015 8:00 am

School is starting and, if this is your last year of high school, you are probably freaking out right about now. If you’re one of those freaking out a bit, don’t worry: You’re not alone and it’s totally understandable. Graduation might still be months away, but this period of your life is almost over.

Living with your parents, going to class everyday with your friends and the same familiar faces you’ve known for years is almost over. College is just around the corner — or is it? When all your teachers, family, friends and even MTV series talk about going to college and having a career, it might seem that this is the path you must take. You have to finish high school and get into a good university — this is what you’ve been told.

But there are so many other options, some of them might seem wild and crazy, but they also represent a good opportunity to travel, learn other languages and find out what you really want to do with your life. You can take a gap year )or a few gap years) before going to college if you want. You might even find that what you wanted in high school changes after a few months abroad. Don’t be held back or forced into a decision by other people’s expectations; do what you love instead.

After months of unstoppable thinking and crazy-crying-in-bed-what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life moments, I collected a few options for ways you can take productive time off to travel when you finish high school (or in my case Design School). Here are my favorites.

Au pair

Working as an au pair is a great option if you are young (you can even be a teenager!), like children, love to travel and would like to learn a new language. Depending on the company you choose, you can work as an au pair for as little as one week or as long as one year. You’ll stay with a family and take care of their kids. This option is perfect if you want to take a gap year while experiencing a new culture and earning a little paycheck every week. You’ll have two free days per week, so you can have time for your hobbies, taking classes or just exploring your new city.

 Au pair world helps you get wherever you want to go. Usually there are a lot of steps before engaging in this adventure. You need to have a clean resume and proof that you are good with children, then you’ll have to write a letter for the families that are looking for an au pair. The ones that answer your profile will be sent to you and you’ll choose which one you want to live with.

Tip: Ask the agency you choose if they have any families that are neighbors, that way you can go with your best friend and live next to each other. Also, speak with the family you’ve chosen as many times as it takes to feel comfortable before moving in with them to be extra sure they are a good match.

Volunteer

Becoming a volunteer for a year might seem like a lot of hard work, and it is, but you’ll also learn to value different cultures, meet a lot of new people and travel to places not many can visit. Besides, you’ll be helping so many people everyday, can you imagine that? If you’re not sure you can stand one year of cold showers and sleeping in a room full of people you can also find programs that last from 1 to 12 weeks, that way you’ll find out if this opportunity is for you or not. You’ll also learn to work in teams and under pressure, which will benefit the way you face daily problems.

Volunteer abroad has a lot of open programs. You choose the country, the duration of your stay and the service you want to provide. There are so many options, you can help with childcare or health, cooking, teaching English, farming…

Tip: If you’re thinking about volunteering, you should read some books like The Voluntourist where a man volunteers in New Orleans, Costa Rica, China, Ecuador and Kenya, he describes perfectly what it’s like to be a volunteer. Volunteer Vacations gathers short-term vacations of people who volunteered in places like Ghana, Slovakia, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Thailand. 

Study a language abroad

Learning a new language is the perfect excuse for traveling — you need more than one week to master a language, after all. While you’re traveling, you should go to classes and make a lot of foreign friends, and visit the whole country to learn the different accents…see? Learning a new language is a perfect excuse to travel. One of my Spanish friends went to Australia for a year to learn english. She was in a group of 24 people from all over the world, and they traveled through all Australia and New Zealand with their teachers. When she came back, she spoke English like a native.

The problem with these kind of courses is that they are usually really expensive and time-consuming, but you learn a lot and have so much fun.

Language abroad offers 11 different languages to learn in the country of your choosing. It’s a lot of hard work, the courses are usually really intensive but after a few months you’ll be an expert.

Tip: Choose a language that has some similarities to your first language or the one that is spoken in the country you plan on living in when you grow up. 

All these possible alternatives can be combined with online courses from pages like coursera or edX with teachers from different universities, and part-time or seasonal jobs. Don’t be afraid to follow your instinct; college isn’t the only option.

(Images via MTV and here.)

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