What does ‘academic’ mean in an EEI program, especially as it relates to gap-year students? You might wonder whether the program will be dry or a potentially overwhelming experience. Will it feel like an extension of high school, or is it a rush into college? Either of these options can be in conflict with what many gap-year students desire—an opportunity for growth, renewal, and maturation before turning to formal education. In fact, the academic nature of the EEI program is almost perfectly designed to support a gap-year student in these aspirations.
An EEI semester provides an opportunity for engaged learning in a supportive environment that allows you to go deeper in ways that are serious and fun, creative and communal, integrated and individualized. Individually and as a learning community, students investigate questions that matter: How can we create a just, sustainable world? What are my own unique gifts and passions and how can I develop them as I move forward in my life? How can I begin to craft a life that is significant and leads to authentic happiness? We engage with these questions through observation, discussions, reading, self-reflection, and in our meetings with inspiring individuals and organizations.
The holistic, integrated nature of the EEI approach goes well beyond a simple focus on subject matter—the what we are learning—to address the reality that we are multidimensional learners and embrace the how, the why, and even the who of how we learn. Unlike a typical classroom where learning can feel abstract, unstimulating, and solitary, in an experiential learning community, students learn in a way that is directly connected to life and their concerns and that underscores that meaning making is best and most satisfying as a communal activity. Balancing the communal aspects are the opportunities for each student to investigate personal interests that are grounded within the semester.
The weaving together of group experiences and discussions with individual curiosity leads to a rich tapestry of learning that reflects the unique nature of each student and each learning community. As students experience the depth and pleasure in this educational approach, and as they take responsibility for group and individual learning activities, they begin to understand how they learn best, knowledge that will support their transition to a successful college experience.
Beyond a deepening understanding of their personal learning style, students on an EEI expedition investigate the purposes of education, both for society and for themselves. Through this investigation, the purpose, the why, of education goes from implicit and unacknowledged to explicit and a dimension of personal choice. Understanding how education fits into your growth and future is integral to taking ownership of your life. Returning to college with a better understanding and ownership of personal purpose allows EEI alumni to make the most of their education.
Finally, most fundamentally, education is the drawing out and development of who we actually are and can become. It is easy to conclude from typical schooling that education is only about acquiring knowledge, but our human life is multidimensional, and knowledge, though important, is only one component of a successful life. EEI’s holistic approach honors the full human experience. Our social skills, emotional understanding, creativity, physical nature and relationship with the natural world, our values and spirit, are all integral parts of an EEI education.
Returning home at the end of an EEI semester, you will be asked what you learned. This is a difficult question to answer given the tremendous spectrum of experiences that you will have had. But you will probably not be asked the deeper, more important questions: How have you grown as a learner, better understanding how education works best for you? How has your understanding of the purpose of your education, your why, developed? How has who you are changed over the semester and what is your new path forward? These questions may be unasked, but you will certainly have a better understanding of their answers.