The American Gap Association (AGA) surveyed over 550 students who had taken a gap year to find out what features of a gap experience lead to positive outcomes. The top 12 aspects of student satisfaction align with elements of an EEI expedition:
1. Structured traveling in a group
An expedition is by definition a group journey with a purpose. In expedition education this purpose is to teach us about ourselves and the world. The people and places, the natural and human communities we visit are essential and unforgettable parts of this education.
2. Forming relationships with gap-year peers
An expedition is a journey of personal and educational exploration. Students and faculty together form a dynamic learning community. We live, cook, eat, teach, learn, play, make music and art, and share our passions and challenges, creating deep connections and friendships that can last a lifetime.
3. Living in a homestay
Homestays are a powerful part of many overseas gap experiences. While individual homestays are not a regular component of a bus semester, as a group we sometimes stay on the land of people or organizations with whom we are meeting, often integrating with families and learning more deeply about their lives and passions. During the Independent Study Period, students often engage in homestays in conjunction with their service-learning, skill-building, or career exploration outreaches.
4. Managing my own budget (less significant than on many programs)
Though there is little opportunity for spending money on an expedition, students do plan, purchase (with a bus budget), and cook meals in rotating groups. Town days also provide the chance to learn how to make choices around spending – none is required, but lattés and donuts can be tempting!
5. Participating in environmental activities
In truth, almost every activity on an expedition is an environmental activity. Nature itself is our home, classroom, and teacher. On the program we develop our relationship with the natural world and investigate some of the challenges we face in becoming an environmentally sustainable society.
6. Being in a new and different environment
For most students, living outdoors and traveling in a customized school bus will already be a new and different environment. But the true wonder of an expedition is becoming intimate with one of America’s bioregions. Three months of living full time outdoors—taking in the lush vegetation of the Pacific Northwest or appreciating the ingenuity with which life adapts itself to the seemingly barren Desert Southwest—is a rare opportunity.
7. Participating in adventure activities
Though for many just living outdoors for twelve weeks may qualify as an adventure, each semester will also have at least two backcountry experiences—usually backpacks, but they could be canoeing or kayaking trips. Such experiences are designed to give us the opportunity to immerse ourselves even more fully in the natural world.
Journaling is just one way of reflecting for students on an expedition. A combination of individual and group reflection allows us to get the most out of experiences, understanding and applying ideas and concepts we are learning, investigating our own values and passions and contrasting them with those of others. Becoming more capable at honest self-reflection is a signficant skill that students gain from an expedition.
9. Volunteering/doing service work
Students are involved in every aspect of the day-to-day running of the expedition and learn the importance of service in creating healthy communities. We also have opportunities to give back to the individuals, organizations, and communities we visit by performing work projects.
10. Forming relationships with program staff
Program faculty are full members of the learning community. They are dedicated to the expedition model of education and the power of experiential, whole-person education. Though there are plenty of planned educational activities and meetings with faculty, your deepest conversations are just as likely to occur late in the evening on the back of the bus, watching your clothes dry in a laundromat, or walking together on a backpack.
11. Participating in cultural training or courses
A main focus of an EEI learning journey is to understand the diverse relationships between human cultures and the natural world. As we travel, we experience regional cultures, learn about local indigenous communities and their relationship to the land, and investigate the ways in which mainstream culture can disconnect us from nature and its degradation.
12. Supporting a cause
Many of the individuals and organizations that we visit are working to make positive change. Often we are able to give a bit of our time and effort back in service, but it is the inspiration of their example and of other efforts we learn about in readings and discussions that lead many students to reorient their life towards the changes they want to see in the world.