Backpacking vs. a language course abroad: which is a better gap year?
Travel may be one of the greatest things you can do with your time on this Earth. It opens your eyes to new cultures, exposes you to fantastic new cities and landscapes, and introduces you to interesting people – you also learn a lot about yourself. Both backpacking and studying a language abroad are brilliant ways to see the world, so how do you decide which is right for you? Luckily, we’re on hand to help. Consider this your very own pro’s and con’s list to help you figure out how to spend your gap year before, during, or after university.
Discovering new places
Backpacking, literally carrying everything you need for an adventure and nothing more on your back, means you’re free to roam without limits. When it’s so easy to pack up and move elsewhere, there’s no need to stay in one place for longer than your attention span can handle. It’s the easiest way to plan a jam-packed travel adventure, discovering endless new cities – and countries – as you please. With no obligations rooting you to one place, your next destination is entirely up to you. If you’re looking to tick off lots of items on your bucket list, backpacking is a sure-fire way to do so.
Studying a language abroad, with classes to attend, and a host family to come home to, you’re officially tied to one city. As your language skills and knowledge of the city improve, you’ll start to feel like a local. You’ll have your favorite coffee shop, friends to go out with, and a good understanding of the culture. In effect, your new city and host family will become your home away from home, but, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck there. With weekends and day trips, you can get out of the city and into the surrounding towns and nature. If you’re studying in Europe, even other countries are just a couple hours away by train.
Meeting new people
As a community, backpackers are among the friendliest and most welcoming of groups, always ready to share stories and travel tips about where they’ve been and where they’re going next. With everyone moving in different directions, you’ll meet an extraordinary number of people on your journey, especially if you choose to stay in the shared dorm rooms, and there will almost always be someone else keen to go out for dinner or join you on whichever hike, bus journey, or surf trip you’ve got lined up.
When it comes to studying abroad, your classmates become a second family. Nothing says “bonding” more than moving away from home, exploring a brand new city, and taking on the challenge of learning a new language together. As compared to backpacking, the friends you meet while studying abroad aren’t just your friends for a night, they’re your friends for life. And we’re just talking about our classmates now: by investing your time in one place, you’ll meet locals that will show you all the hidden gems of the city and help you expand your international network. In general, if you’re interested in forging a deeper connection with your classmates and the local people, studying abroad is for you.
Gaining life skills
Both as a backpacker and a student, you’re guaranteed to come away from your time abroad with a new set of life skills. In each case, you’re thrown into a crazy exciting environment where you have to learn very quickly how to communicate with new people, navigate a new culture, and create a new life for yourself abroad. You’re in charge and your independence skyrockets. By managing your own time, transportation, studies, and social life, you’ll return home feeling more confident in your abilities. The extra bonus of studying abroad is that you’ll have gained the incredible ability to speak another language and converse with an entirely new community of people in their native tongue – something that seriously impresses future employers and university admissions officers.
But, regardless of how your potential career prospects are looking afterward, the important thing to determine when choosing how to spend your gap year is what you really want out of your time abroad. Do you want to attack your bucket list, see lots of cities, and meet lots of people? Or, do you want to learn a new language, make friends for life, and live the language alongside locals in a city you really know? Either way, you get to travel, and, as I said in the beginning, that’s pretty much the greatest things you can do with your time on this Earth.