Take a Gap Year to Learn about Yourself and the Environment

Eco-Gap Participants in the Greenhouse. Photo provided by Eco-Gap.

Eco-Gap Participants in the Greenhouse. Photo provided by Eco-Gap.

Gap years are on the rise. More and more, young adults are being encouraged to defer their acceptance to college to take a break from the grind of school, mature, and learn more about themselves. For some, taking a gap year serves as an introduction to living away from home. For others, a gap year provides work experience, and the opportunity to make extra cash to pay for college and other expenses. Articles and opinion pieces are frequently being published, attesting to a gap year’s ability to provide crucial preparation for college.

But gap years can serve a purpose other than bettering oneself. Some gap year programs have been created with the goal of fostering a generation of environmentally aware young adults. These programs have an eco-focus, encouraging their participants to live socially and environmentally conscious lifestyles.

International School for Earth Studies

The Cushing family runs the International School for Earth Studies in Southern Alberta. According to Co-Founder, CEO, and Director of Operations Geoffrey Cushing, he and his family were, and remain, “Eco-tourism pioneers.” The International School for Earth Studies run programs that educate and connect people to the environment. They accepted their first gap year student in 2005, and they have maintained a vibrant program ever since.

At the core of their gap year program are four pillars:

  1. Environmental Literacy

  2. Self Defense

  3. (Non Motorized) Outdoor Recreation

  4. Animal connection

The International School for Earth Studies runs two sessions of gap year programs: an Autumn and a Winter session. In addition to living and learning on the institution’s immense property that includes a private lake, diverse animals, and a stable, participants travel to other important places such as the Great Lakes, and the largest concentration of power plants in North America. The gap year students will learn from knowledgeable and experienced staff and speakers, including first nation biologists.

Geoffrey explained that students experience an “immersion into an outdoor lifestyle,” as students spend six to eight hours a day working outdoors. A typical day is split up into morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. In the morning and afternoon, participants will learn how to work and connect with animals, or develop outdoor survival techniques. Evening sessions are more discussion based. Sometimes, participants will stargaze. Other times, a participant will lead a discussion. Geoffrey said that the discussions can get particularly deep and emotional.

Geoffrey hopes that participants will leave this program as more educated global citizens, and will feel the urgency of Earth’s environmental situation. “We feel that the world is in crisis environmentally,” Geoffrey said. “We try to use animals, the voiceless, as the platform for our students to realize how desperate the situation is.”

Eco-Gap at EcoVillage at Ithaca

Ecovillage at Ithaca, NY is comprised of three neighborhoods organized as housing cooperatives. Learn@ecovillage’s gap year program is brand new, they just initiated their first cohort last year.

Liz Walker, Director and Co-Founder of EcoVillage explained that Eco-Gap is unique, as it is set in the Ecovillage, a community that is completely environmentally oriented. Participants live with families in the communities.

There are two opportunities for gap year students:

  1. The Eco-Gap immersion program

  2. The Eco-Gap internship program

The Eco-Gap immersion program is an eight-week structured program in the fall, for a small cohort of eight participants. Liz outlined the major, and varied, components of the Eco-Gap immersion program:

  1. Agriculture: local food and farming. Participants will work on the Ecovillage’s four organic farms, and learn to prepare food for themselves and for the needy.

  2. Health and Wellness: Participants will learn yoga and meditation skills, as well as tap into their own artistic creativity,

  3. Building Skills: Participants will learn about green building, and learn carpentry skills to build their own small shed.

  4. Living and leadership skills: Participants will learn how to express themselves fully, and how to deal with conflict through non-violence.

For those that want more work experience, or a more flexible timeline, the Eco-Gap internship program offers individual mentoring.

Through Eco-Gap’s programming, Liz aims to teach from a “context of environmental and social sustainability and social justice.”  Her goal is that her participants “obtain practical skills for transforming oneself and the world.”

These are just two examples of environmentally focused gap year programs. There are more out there, all around the world. Additionally, gap year students can volunteer for the environment independently, without an organized program.






ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 

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