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A Gap Year: 10 Ways to Gain a Year (vs. Lose One!)

Attention gap year travelers, expats and weary career survivalists…

Ready to “ditch” your career?

But afraid your professional contacts might dry up?

Are you uncertain if your experiences abroad will translate into marketable assets for a CV when you return home?


What will you do you return from your gap year?


Undoubtedly, these questions are scary for the traveler returning from spending a year+ of their life abroad. Frankly, it’s freaking me out and I’ve not even left yet! This is your gap year abroad and you have to ask yourself:

Will I gain a year or lose it?

I’ve spoken to friends who have returned from expat life. Like a NASA astronaut re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, they had to deal with the gravity of transitioning back into their old lives. In doing so, they were almost always met with an awkward career drift, feelings of displacement and an unsettling frustration as to how they could reconnect with the working world and their professional lives.


Sometimes, it’s important to ask the “scary” questions in advance.

Why? Avoidance will only prolong pain and quite possibly increase its size. Why not buck up now, take a proactive stance to shaping your opportunities abroad and work to keep those career gears in flux so that you  land on your feet when you come home.


10 ways to GAIN a year when you’re abroad:


1) Create a proactive plan: take steps to scout opportunities for career growth.

2) Seek out or create your own professional growth opportunities and projects… How can you work on your job portfolio or expand your skills?

3) Join a work abroad or volunteer program.

4) If you can’t gain work in your field; learn and gain experience for a secondary one.

5) Master fluency in a foreign language.

6) Assess your “career strengths/weakness” and look for experiences that help develop it.

7) Assess your resident country’s resources and where it offers learning and development.

8) Observe the business practices and trends of your resident country.

9) Ask for recommendation letters for your work and participation in projects.

10) Join special interest groups & expat networks. Seek out like-minded people & explore new interests and hobbies.


Next: A Gap Year: The 3 Steps to Moving your life abroad Part IV>>

Related Posts:
A Gap Year: The Advantages of Taking One Part I
A Gap Year: Teaching English in Korea Part II
A Gap Year: 10 Ways to Gain a Year (vs. Lose One!) Part III


  1. Greg Dolezal says:

    This is why I see volunteering with ATEK as so valuable. I can work in my field, help the community, and gain new skills while being away. Grads with any major can find a role.

    • @Greg: I like the initial premise of ATEK. I actually joined a month ago, but I didn’t really understand what was being offered in volunteering at the time. What kind of volunteer programs do you do and by “working in your field”, do you mean your musician field or the teaching one?

  2. Leo Salazar says:

    By the way, in reflecting on the title of your blog, it makes me think of my time as an expat trailing spouse. I reckoned that I got maybe 2 productive years out of every 4 year assignment. A year getting settled and finding my way, then a year before leaving breaking ties and cleaning up, getting ready to move again. For my wife it was easy: literally from one day to the next at her new assignment. But for me taking care of the house and kids and trying to find work that suited me in the meantime? Much harder.

    • @Leo: I’m glad you brought that up– I certainly agree w/ you on the 2:4 ratio of time. When I moved here, acclimating and getting settled felt like it took 1/2+ a year! I literally felt like I had no time and that things took me a lot longer. Trying to “figure out how things worked” in my new environments from food, job, home…took a lot of time. Finding a restaurant with an English menu/pictures or my way to a place took HOURS! Accomplishing one task within a day felt monumental while in the U.S. I’d have gotten 8-10x more done.

      For you to have to find work abroad must’ve also been a challenge as the jobs available are limited down to what the native of that country can’t do. Here in Korea, most foreigners are teachers & that’s the only option. Any tips on finding jobs as an expat trailing spouse?

  3. Leo Salazar says:

    Great tips!!! Working with expats at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam we noticed that incoming expats, re-entering their home country, would have an even more difficulties adjusting than outgoing expats. It had not only to do with knowledge and networks, but also with expectations: the incoming expats expected to see the same country they left X years previously. Secondly, their colleagues and business environment at the home office had invariably changed as well, and being unprepared to cope with this change, most expats left the company within a short time of returning. Your tips are excellent for expats to start thinking about their return and to prepare for it professionally as well as personally. Well done!

  4. These are really great suggestions. Ones I never thought of. 🙂

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