Gap Semesters: Hitting ‘Pause’ before college

Emily O’Kelly of St. Helena, CA experienced life in Southeast Asia last year through what is called a Gap Semester.

Gap programs offer an educational bridge between high school and college and create opportunities for students to experience some of the world before committing to further studies.

O’Kelly made the decision to defer college for a year while jumping 14,000 feet out of a plane.

“After registering the fact that I just skydived for the first time, I immediately felt a surge of panic as I realized the path I was taking wasn’t the one I necessarily wanted to. As soon as I got home, I ran to my mom and asked, ‘Is it too late to take a Gap Semester with Adventures Cross-Country?’”

Underscoring that deciding on a gap program “turned out to be the best decision I have yet made,” she is now in Ghana working for a social fashion company called Global Mamas.

Latin America, Asia and Africa are the Gap Semester Program destinations Adventures Cross-Country (ARCC) offers this year. All begin September 15 and run for approximately 90 days, ending on December 13. ARCC Gap programs focus on five fundamental themes as the students move through these study areas: Literacy and Education, Public Health, Urbanization and the Movement of Peoples, Environment and Conservation, Microfinance and Economic Growth.

“Gap Semesters have a rich academic fabric complementing each and every location, highlighting regional issues that are directly linked to global challenges,” explains Scott von Eschen, company president. “In a small group setting, we embark on a journey of discovery of people, places, cultures and ideas.”

Adventure Cross-Country’s Gap Semester Programs are priced at $12,500 to $13,500 per student, exclusive of air and personal needs. Included are all meals, lodging, ground transportation, activities and entrance fees, ARCC curriculum and all group equipment and training.

Katie O’Neill of New Canaan, CT and a graduate of Greenwich Academy entered Vermont’s Middlebury College in February 2014 after traveling in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania for nearly 13 weeks on a fall ARCC 2013 Gap Semester. Among O’Neill’s experiences was meeting people inside one of the world’s biggest slums outside of Nairobi.

“It never felt like real life – for better and for worse. I got to escape everything that haunted me at home: issues of money, social standing, family drama, boys, all of it. But I was also forced to face realities about the world that I had always been able to dismiss before as existing too far away from me to matter. I had to grow up in that way,” O’Neill said.

In addition to Gap Programs, Adventures Cross-Country announces nearly 20 opportunities for ages 13 to 19 to roll up their sleeves this summer to assist domestic and international communities while traveling from two weeks to over a month domestically and abroad.

Service projects span the globe, from constructing water filters in Cambodia to rhino tracking and conservation in Uganda to serving the impoverished in San Francisco.

Since 1983, Adventures Cross-Country ( has designed cultural immersion opportunities through travel that focus on, among others, cross-cultural understanding, learning a second language and community service.