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How a Gap Year Can Connect With Your Spiritual Side

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For some students, a gap year is a chance to get in touch with their spiritual side or to learn more about their faith. There are several gap year programs that combine adventure, community service and even academics with contemplation or religious study.

Below are some examples of spiritual or faith related gap year programs.

Young Judaea Year Course – Gap Year in Israel

Where: Bat Yam and Jerusalem

Duration: Nine months

Cost: Approximately $24,000; check the website for details.

Students in this program, which is the oldest gap year program in Israel, can expect a challenge and an adventure, says Kate Nachman, the program’s director.

The course kicks off in Jerusalem, where teens live together in student housing and share a budget for shopping, cooking and cleaning. They take classes in history, philosophy, sociology and Hebrew, and can earn up to a full year of college credit. They also take field trips twice a week.

“The focus of the Jerusalem semester is on academics and learning and personal growth,” Nachman says.

After Jerusalem, students travel to Bat Yam, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. There, they live in apartments and become immersed in the community. They volunteer four days a week at elder-care facilities, soup kitchens, elementary schools and hospitals. Students also can do an eight-week simulated army basic training program.

Participants should be independent, interested in personal growth and prepared to have a holistic experience, she says.

“In order to have the space to do the big thinking and have the fun that we want them to have, they need to be independent enough and smart enough to make good decisions,” Nachman says.

Glorieta Gap Year Walkabout Program

Where: Camp Eagle, in Rocksprings, Texas; or Glorieta, N.M.

Duration: Nine months

Cost: Approximately $11,000; check website for details.

The Walkabout Program focuses on personal growth and living an examined life as a Christian. Participants spend nearly half of their time helping to run the off-season programs hosted by the camps, such as conferences, retreats, school trips and other events. Daily tasks include cooking, cleaning and doing projects with staff members.

“When they're serving at the camp, we want them to feel like they're part of the ministry,” says Scott Chapman, director of Wilderness Programs.

It’s not all work. There are monthly adventure trips, including a seven-day paddling trip on the Pecos River in Texas; a backpacking excursion in the wilderness near Santa Fe, N.M.; and a multisport trip in Texas’ Big Bend National Park.

“They've got to be psyched about outdoor adventure, and they've got to be motivated to grow as an individual,” Chapman says.

Students also take classes and study how to interpret and apply the Bible. Participants should be Christian and prepared to develop the tools to live as a Christian disciple, Chapman says.

Summit Adventure Immersion Service and Adventure Semester

Where: Yosemite, Calif.; Ecuador; Patagonia

Duration: Approximately four months

Cost: Approximately $17,000; check website for details.

This Christ-centered program focuses on experiential education as a way to push students out of their comfort zones.

“It makes them more vulnerable and open to talking about the deep topics of religion and spirituality,” says Jake Wiens, a program spokesman.

The program begins with a six-week stay in Bass Lake, Calif., just outside of Yosemite National Park, where students take classes on leadership education, spiritual formation and interpersonal communication. Students also go on expeditions, such as backpacking and rock climbing in the surrounding wilderness.

Next, students spend about five weeks in Ecuador, where they stay with families and work on local service projects. This is followed by a week in Patagonia, at the tip of South America, where students participate in more service work.“All the experiences are designed to put students outside of their comfort zones to push them spiritually, emotionally and physically,” Wiens says.

It’s important for students to have an open mind and a willingness to try new things, he says.

Inward Bound Mindfulness Education

Where: Locations vary; check the website for details.

Duration: About a week

Cost: Based on family income; check the website for details.

These retreats for teens combine walking and sitting meditations and mindfulness activities with a focus on making a connection to the natural world. Retreats are held at retreat centers or private schools in areas with ample walking trails. Yoga classes and workshops are held in the afternoons. Students are asked to leave cell phones at home because the retreats are a technology-free zone.

Participants "tend to get to a wonderful place where they realize they have the ability to have these deeper conversations rather than having to use a digital technology to have a connection,” says David Hart, director of community engagement.

Prior experience with meditation is not necessary.

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Written by Amy Anthony

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Amy Anthony is a journalist now working for the Associated Press in Providence, R.I.

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