Update on Fall 2020 Gap Year Programs

With the traditional start of first semester Gap Year travel only 3 months away, the plans of Gap Year programs this fall are starting to take shape. Here is a quick rundown on what is happening as of early June 2020.

International programs still planning to travel

Several programs have recently reaffirmed their intention to run programs to specific international destinations in fall 2020. These include several countries in Asia (Nepal, Indonesia and Bhutan) and Costa Rica. Each of these countries has a different situation related to COVID and ongoing travel restrictions. Each country also has a different reliance on tourism to support their national economy, which may impact the timing of their decisions to reopen. Bhutan for example has had only 48 confirmed cases of COVID, and all tourism visas remain suspended. Safety is paramount for all these programs, so it is still possible that while they plan to go as of today, they may still have to cancel their fall itineraries. (Other programs that have not cancelled for the fall have indicated they will make a decision by a specific date, e.g., July 15th).

International programs shifted to online activities

Global Citizen Year early in the pandemic cancelled all travel for the full 2020-21 year and has now launched its virtual Global Citizen Academy focused on social activism leadership. Some international programs are now offering online internships. Kaya is now offering remote internships in which students “will contribute to a capacity building-project for an organization tackling social or environmental issues in their local community”. United Planet’s response to COVID includes virtual internships in which students support host organizations in achieving their mission through remote project support and online tasks. Some areas of focus include social media, marketing and fundraising within childcare, education, global health and conservation organizations. AU Gap will be online in the fall, regardless of whether American University is holding on campus classes.

International programs shifted to domestic itinerary

Some programs which specialize in overseas travel have just announced programs in the U.S. for fall 2020. Several organizations which would normally have been in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America and elsewhere will now be running structured group programs in the western part of the U.S. (Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, California and Hawaii) and east coast (Maine, Vermont, New York, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Maryland). These activities tend to focus on social, environmental, and conservation issues along with some outdoor fun, adventure and skill building (e.g., backpacking, surfing and scuba certification). They are pivoting their field staff to these programs, so the students will continue to benefit from experienced leadership.

Domestic programs still planning to run

It is easy to assume that long standing domestic programs such as NOLS and Outward Bound will operate more “normally” in the fall. While certainly “easier” than programs sending students outside the U.S., these programs are still sorting out questions surrounding course sizes, structure, and logistics in order to restart operations that were shut down in March. Outward Bound just cancelled all summer 2020 programs, and NOLS has cancelled Alaska programs while devising programming running out of its Lander, WY location. Other domestic programs with a more “outdoor” orientation are also likely to rework their approach to ensure student and staff safety, and comply with governmental guidelines, including others in the Rocky Mountains. One of the U.S. based programs that typically runs many overseas itineraries is planning to run its borders and immigration program in the southwest U.S. regardless of the status of its international programs.

Domestic programs shifted to online activities

Unfortunately, domestic U.S. programs with a residential component have had to drastically rethink their approach for the fall, not unlike college campuses. Some of these programs have already shifted their programming to be 100% online. One California-based program recently announced that it was not only shifting international travel to the U.S. for its year long program, but it is also launching a brand new virtual experience. This new program “will combine intensive personal coaching and skill-building workshops with a virtual volunteer project in one of five areas: health, education, finance, government, and environmental action”. Another program in Tennessee just announced changes, and we expect to hear soon from programs in New York and Massachusetts that they will not run their normal programs in the fall.

New virtual programs launched

Crisis and uncertainty tend to fuel innovation, and the COVID pandemic is no exception. In addition to the Global Citizen Academy launched by GCY mentioned earlier, several new brand programs have recently launched. Boost by Kaplan is an online-only semester long program focused on workplace readiness. In the latest of the new launches, Domain has just come out from Impact Global Education. It describes itself as a “unique hybrid-learning program designed to provide young adults with the tools and knowledge to make better decisions about the next phase of life”. We have previously described ImagineU, launched by Gap Year Solutions as a virtual “add-on” to infuse students’ local activities with social connection, mentorship and structure.

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