Fair Promotes Gap Year Options


Casey Miller, Editor in Chief

In an effort to encourage high school students to think about options other than going directly to college, a USA Gap Year Fair targeting East Bay students, was held in the Miramonte auditorium on January 24.

Admission was free, though advanced registration was required.

USA Gap Year Fairs is a national circuit of events that bring together reputable organizations, interested students and parents, high school college counselors and gap year experts.

This event’s guest speaker was Jason Sarouhan, Vice President, Center for Interim Programs. As the first and longest-running independent gap-year counseling organization in the United States, the Center for Interim Programs encourages “creative gap time” for students, under-grads, and mid-career individuals in order to find their passions and possibly re-create their lives. Sarouhan spoke to the audience about the benefits of a break from “in-class” education, and experiencing the “world as your classroom.”

Over thirty booths were set up along the auditorium walls, each with a different mission and different experience to offer. Joanna Burnet, the co-founder of VisitOz, offered information about farm work, au pair experience, and general hands-on employment in rural Australia. Burnet said, “I started this organization 24 years ago. I have been coming to these gap years for four years now.”

Bernet and her husband created their program after she realized that family and friends were looking for opportunities to leave the United States and gain work experience. “We had been traveling the world with my husband retired, then we came back to Australia, built a farm and we started farm work. Then we received letters from our friends’ children and our children’s friends, saying ‘Can we come stay with you?’ And, ‘please can you find us a job?’ And we said ‘yes.’ Then it just sort of happened. And it grew and grew and grew, and twenty-four years later, we’re here!”

As a part of VisitOz gap program, participants can choose from farm work, housework, or local hospitality work. Jobs go beyond the Burnet’s Springbrook Farm, to other parts of rural Australia as well.

While other programs also included outdoor experiences, like the popular Outward Bound, some offered more scholastic opportunities. International Studies Abroad [ISA] representative Jessie Brewer explained her motivation for working with gap year students: “I actually lived abroad in Spain while in high school for four years. After that, I went to the University of Mississippi where I studied Mandarin and Chinese intensively, studied abroad in China three times, and realized I loved international education and wanted to encourage high school students, especially recently graduated high school students, to study abroad and travel.”

Brewer found that her passion was to help these students find their specific gap year program. “I put out my feelers and found that ISA, which was based in Austin, a city I’ve always wanted to live in, was hiring someone that speaks Mandarin and Chinese. I applied for the job and got it two weeks later,” Brewer explained. “It was so serendipitous, and I felt like everything really fell in place for a reason.”

“A lot of students are burnt out after twelve years of traditional education,” Brewer said. “Sometimes going abroad, meeting new people and seeing all walks of life, different cultures, different languages, rejuvenates you as a human being. Sometimes, it helps you find your motivation to study something you’re interested in and not be pushed into in a classroom here in the States.”