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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Gap Year 2024 Trends: What’s the Word Across Canada

The Canadian Gap Year Association just wrapped up on their incredible gap year tour! Michelle shares valuable insights from her coast-to-coast travels. Whether you are a highschool student, parent or educator, this episode is packed with gap year expert tips, gap year strategies and valuable resources to tap into. Unlock the potential of your own gap year adventure! 

Take a listen! 

Topics Discussed

  1. Community Connection: We explore the power of community and meaningful interactions, both within Canada and beyond, as essential components of a transformative gap year journey.

  2. Future Gappers: Listen to expert advice on navigating scholarships, deferrals, and other key aspects of planning a meaningful gap year experience.

  3. Parents: Discover why parents across the country are increasingly embracing the idea of a gap year for their children, gaining valuable insights into its benefits and opportunities.

  4. Educators: Learn how your peers are increasingly supportive of the gap year pathway, with over 400 professionals attending sessions to better understand and advocate for this transformative experience.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Every spring, the Canadian Gap Year Association heads across Canada delivering gap year information sessions. We just wrapped up this year's tour and I wanted to share some of my reflections from our time travelling coast to coast.

Take a listen.

Michelle Dittmer - 00:00Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year Podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and Gap Year expert. Sorry this episode is a little bit late but I wanted to make sure we got our last event in which happened this past Saturday for our 2024 in-person Cross Canada tour of gap year information sessions. It was a record year for CanGap. We had in-person sessions in Ottawa, Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary. I spent a whole week in New Brunswick. Oakville, Toronto, we had virtual presentations in Saskatoon.Holy moly, it was a whirlwind trip. And I have so many things I want to share with you about what happened on this trip and some of the things that we discovered doing all of these amazing presentations.

Now obviously first of all it goes without saying I can't believe how beautiful our country is.On this trip, on this tour I got to see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, flew over the Rocky Mountains, drove through Fundy National Park and I had really hoped to see the Hopewell Rocks but unfortunately the park was closed when I was there. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful and diverse country from a geography perspective, from a cultural perspective.

It reinforced my belief that gappers should 100% spend some time on their gap year traveling our country. Really, there is so much here to see. You don't need to head overseas to have a really magical experience. So whether you are into urban adventures or the wilderness or culture or language, there is really so much within Canada to see and learn, had wonderful interactions, learning about different Indigenous histories and cultures, looking at some of the natural wonders that we have, learning about different industries, even the dialects from region to region and the accents that Canadians have really there is so much for us to do and to really get out there and see this country and meet all of the wonderful people.

And when I say wonderful people I really mean it. Canadians are just so welcoming, so kind. And especially our gap year friendly communities, oh my goodness, and the folks in education, so welcoming of our team and we're so supportive of the work that we do at CanGap. So just really thrilled with all of that.

Michelle Dittmer - 04:06But beyond the wonders of our country and as wonderful people, I learned and frankly relearned so much that I wanted to share with you our listeners. 

So first of all, I want to talk about the value of us being humans and being in community with other humans. Really out of necessity through the pandemic, out of the accessibility for such a large country, virtual presentations are 100% a necessary tool. We want to reach as many people as we can and it's expensive. We quite frankly don't have the funds or the staff to be able to head out and present in all of the communities and If you sent us a message and said hey you gotta come to Edmonton, hey you gotta come out to Thunder Bay, we heard you and we would love to come. So regardless of where you are, if there is a local sponsor that would like to bring our team out in person, just send us a message.

We would be more than happy to figure out how to make that happen. Really it's just a matter of lack of funds. If you've got someone who would be willing to sponsor it, just reach out to us through the website and we will find a way to come to your community because we believe so strongly in getting this message out.

Getting back to the virtual presentations, while we do amazing virtual presentations, there's limitations to that. Really, it's a download of information. We share with you and you consume. It's very one-way and really it's hard to feel connected through that screen so when I'm presenting I can smile all I want into my camera but without seeing your reaction without feeling your energy without reading your body language or facial expressions it's really difficult for me to make sure that I'm hitting on all the things that are important to you.I think the value of in-person presentations is just astronomical so I really am grateful that we were able to get to as many destinations as we could this year and I look forward to expanding that in the future and again if there's any way any of our listeners can support with that financially or logistically we would love to hear from you.

Now something that's very interesting and it is kind of a vestigial thing from COVID and people participating in virtual presentations for years on end, it's really changed the way that a lot of folks show up to in-person events as well. The way that we design our Gap Year information tour is that it's workshop style.

It's very interactive and very participate. Participatory and we want you to get involved.But you know what? That makes some people very uncomfortable when I say that in the session they kind of look at me with their eyes and say like, do I have to or why are you making me do this? Can't I just sit here and consume? And I just wanted to make a little note on here's why We design the presentations like we do and it all comes down to the fact that we are human and we need to be humans together with each other and that involves talking and sharing and interacting in general and we all do need a little bit more practice with this and while it is all about those things it's also about not having to share things that are too personal to you so 

We want you to participate involved be involved and have a good time but without feeling like you're getting too far out of your comfort zone so we design it in a way that we have that share back and it's voluntary but it's a really great way to interact with people in the same room. And I truly believe, and this is probably my teacher coming back out of me, but to really engage with the material, that is when you're really going to get involved.

That's when you're really going to learn it. That's really when you're going to internalize it rather than just sitting there and consuming it. I can't tell you how many virtual conferences I've attended and I've walked away. I can't even remember what sessions I went to because I was too busy checking my email or drawing a picture because I wasn't paying attention.

So really getting there, being hands-on, being fully present. To be honest, in-person sessions are more fun. We get to laugh, we get to interact with each other and have a really good time. Beyond just the fact that there's no replacement for in-person sessions, we learned a couple things about the gap year landscape in Canada as well and there are many universal gap year elements and there's a couple of little regional or community-based ones too.

Michelle Dittmer - 09:25Let's share some of these insights some of them might be very obvious to you and some of them might be a little bit new but I wanted to share just because I think every time we experience something there's some takeaways and this is how I ask my gappers to show up when we're coaching is you had this experience but what did you learn from it what are you taking away from it so I am going to walk the talk and share some of the things that I learned about what's happening across Canada.

So across the country, when we had families come out, obviously this is a little biased, but almost all of the parents were 100% supportive of a gap year for their kids. Now, obviously, there's a little bit of bias because they are coming out to an information session.

But I do also want to say that there were some that were gathering information, but none of them, none, zero in all of the presentations across the entire country. Were completely against it. Other things that were interesting was when young people came out, about half of them were fully committed to taking a gap year.They're already well on their way and they just wanted to put the starting of a plan together.They wanted to get some information from the experts. While the other half were just gathering information, whether they were coming out in their grade 11 year Or they were still debating what their plans were for next year as a grade 12 student, but about half of them were fully committed, ready to go and just wanting to connect with us, which wasreally, really cool.

Now, maybe unsurprisingly, the number one fear of everyone, parents and young people included, was a fear of not going back to school, of being distracted, of stepping away from being a student and forgetting how to do that, or earning money and realizing you don't have to go back to school. So that's pretty universal fear. And I think that we talked a lot about that in our sessions that statistically most young people do go back to school up to 90% depending on the study that you look at do return to post-secondary and when they do go back they're better students they have a different perspective that they're bringing to their studies which is Just such a powerful thing when we look at Higher Ed, we don't want this to just be grade 13, 14, 15, 16 that you're just going to do just because.

This is expensive, it's costly, it's your time, it's something that you should be fully engaged in, not just checking the boxes. 

 Michelle Dittmer - 12:39

Taking a gap year can actually lead you to being a better student when you do return and surprisingly a lot of people didn't know what a deferral was and so this is really important and if you don't know what a deferral is I'll give you a quick little intro here but we have an entire episode on how to defer your acceptance so we'll link that in the show notes if that's something you want to learn a little bit more about.

So deferring your acceptance means you applied in your grade 12 year, you got accepted to a school, and now you have the opportunity to reach out to the school and ask them to hold your spot for the following year. So you reach out and you say, I'm not ready for September of 2024. Can I please come September of 2025? Each school has a different policy so you'll have to read all of their policies but just knowing that it's an option can be really helpful.

Michelle Dittmer - 13:22Something that I always talk about in my presentations and it came up again and again in the in-person sessions is how do you find gap year activities. And just about everyone who was considering a gap year had jumped into Google and typed in gap year programs. And lo and behold up come thousands of different programs and the top listings are all programs that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

And that's because these folks have the most money, they can do the best SEO, they can buy the Google Ads. But the reality is that probably about 95% of what you're going to do on your gap year is not found in Google by using the terms gap year. It's going to be jobs and volunteering and internships and job shadowing and being involved in projects. And there are some programs out there that are very helpful.

You just need to think outside of the box. So don't go with just googling gap year programs.

Jump in there and start looking at the things that you're specifically really interested in and see what you can find. And if you need support with this, This is our superpower. Our team here is fantastic at finding opportunities for you.

So send us an email or book a free 30-minute call with us. We would love to help you figure out what that plan is going to look like.

Michelle Dittmer - 14:55We also heard from a lot of students when they were there without their parents that they're feeling a lot of pressure and a lot of pressure to move in a particular direction. So for some people that was moving right into a post-secondary program.

For other young people it was feeling a pressure to get involved in STEM versus the arts versus Finding a career in something more hands-on. For some folks it was a particular career path that their parents really had their eyes set on so a lot of pressure to move in a direction that didn't feel quite right to the students. So I think that's a really important thing that we do need to be listening to our young people and young people you need to be Speaking up about what is important to you, this is your life and your future and we want you to be successful and happy and sometimes we just need to make sure that we are articulating that and we are coming up with a good plan for our future even if it looks different than maybe our parents are hoping for us. 

Michelle Dittmer - 16:09

The last thing that came up that was universal across the board was talking about scholarships. Now scholarships are a tricky one because in the fine print some scholarships do say that you need to be a grade 12 student going directly into post-secondary. So that means if you take a gap year you are not eligible for those particular scholarships.

Now if you come across them, if you find them, please send them our way. We want to approach them and ask them to change their policies because we know the value of a gap year, we know how beneficial it is for young people to have all this added experience and actually quite frankly it makes you a better scholarship recipient. So if you do find scholarships that have that, please send them to us and we will have a conversation on your behalf to see if we can get that policy changed. And also a lot of people spend a lot of time on their gap year applying for scholarships that they are eligible for so they can make back a lot of the money that they maybe had to turn down because they were taking a gap year.

Michelle Dittmer - 17:15

Now if we look regionally, what was some of the things that was pretty unique?Anytime we ended up in a farming community, there was a lot of pull towards working on the family farm after graduating grade 12 or taking over the family business and often this was assumptions by parents about what they wanted but young people were expressing that they wanted to see what else was out there and I really highly encourage you if you are thinking about going into the family business or taking over the family farm I really want you to think about what the value might be of getting different perspectives and taking them back to the family farm, taking them back to the family business.

It's going to help you to grow and evolve the family business in a way that can be really, really helpful to your entire family. We've got a fantastic podcast episode with Abbey. We'll link it in the show notes. Abby took a farming gap year, she farmed her way across Canada. So even if you are thinking about getting into farming or taking over your family business, think about how you could leverage your gap year to support with that. 

Michelle Dittmer - 18:38 

Now when we look at the educators across the country, most of them were supportive or even curious. The only one that I ran up against who was quite adamantly against it was a gentleman that found me on the CBC radio and called in and in his experience in his small town, young people who took time off ended up falling in love and starting families and never returning to school. So he was against it. But everybody else that I talk to and let me say that's a very specific case and does not happen very often.

But everyone else was very supportive and we were able to run multiple professional development sessions throughout the tour and probably over 400 educators came out to learn more about the gap year pathway. So you're going to see more and more in the schools that the educators are learning and more comfortable talking about this pathway.It was very clear that the teachers were very in tune with the students and the parents and the needs of their local community as teachers always are. Many of them that came out were actually parents of grade 12 students who were going to take a gap year so they're very much living it. And almost all of them knew someone who was currently taking a gap year or who had recently taken a gap year.

So when you feel like you're the only one taking a gap year, 400 teachers across the country beg to differ. There are lots of people who are choosing to take that time. 

Michelle Dittmer - 20:17

And if you do want to meet others who are taking a gap year, you need to get involved in our gap year GPS program. This program is fantastic. It will connect you to people across the country who are also on gap years. You get access to a gap year coach who will help you navigate the ins and outs and ups and downs of not only the logistics of your gap year but also support you in that Formative transition between adolescence and adulthood and navigating all the things that come up on your gap year.

You have the opportunity to earn the Student of Leadership and Humanity Award that you can put on your resume and on your LinkedIn profile. So many benefits of joining the gap year GPS program and first and foremost just being connected to a community of people who are taking a gap year themselves.

Michelle Dittmer - 21:13

So wonderful. And then I got sidetracked there the teachers also themselves many of them had taken gap years and were really vocal about how beneficial it had been for them and were really encouraging their students to take this gap time. So whether they were classroom teachers or guidance counselors or career professionals who were there supporting career development all across the board

Michelle Dittmer - 21:50 If we didn't come to your hometown, head over to our YouTube channel and watch our Gap Year 101 videos. These videos cover a lot of the same content that we cover in our in-person sessions. Again, only one way though, but it will give you all of the basic information that you need to get started. If you are a teacher or an educator or somebody who's advising young people, you can also do our pre-recorded professional development session. At your leisure, it is found on our website and we will link to all of these things in our show notes.

Michelle Dittmer - 22:44

So really, if I look back on the last couple of weeks, number one, I'm exhausted. It was a lot of travel, a lot of socialization, but a lot of opportunity to really dig deep into the beauty of our country, the beauty of its people and Make sure that we're still right on track in supporting folks from coast to coast on how to have really purposeful, meaningful, impactful gap years and check we are still right at the forefront leading the way and supporting people in the way that they need to be supported for their gap year.So we get an A plus on our report card going across the country And we'd love to come out and see you on our next year's leg of this journey. Now, if you need any support, you need to find any resources, you can always book a call with us. We are very excited to offer those for free. There is no upsell. We are not trying to sell you anything. We are just trying to help you. So come and book a call with us.

Our team would love to chat with you. And hopefully next year we'll be able to come out to your hometown!

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