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AMIGOS National Outreach Manager Erin Aucar attended the Association for Experiential Education and the Gap Year Association Annual Conference this year. Here are her favorite moments and takeaways from her experience.

“Changed people create change” – Cecilia Polanco, UNC Global Fellow Gap Alum, Pupusas for Education

Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS) envisions a world in which each young person becomes a lifelong catalyst for social change. For over 50 years AMIGOS has given youth the space to be challenged  in a way that gives them the tools to drive both personal and societal change. In 2012, AMIGOS dared to take the transformative experience further by offering a 4 to 9-month gap year program. As a gap year is designed to be a time of intentional growth and reflection mixed with a bit of adventure, this was a natural fit for AMIGOS.

For four days in early November, top change-makers in the gap year and experiential education field gathered together at the AEE/GYA Conference to talk about the goals, challenges, and opportunities for empowering youth to take control of their educational journey. As members of the Gap Year Association, AMIGOS sent two representatives, myself and the Managing Director of Programs, Ana Aguilera.

We attended a myriad of workshops, networking sessions, and speeches – it was inspiring to say the least. The industry as a whole is consists of nonprofit and for-profit gap providers, gap alumni, parents of gap alumni, gap counselors, and experiential educators. Together, we shared many of the same challenges, but more importantly there was an undeniable shared vision for the advancement of gap years as a powerful educational tool for young people. I can’t wait to see what we are able to accomplish in the next few years.



It’s ok to have different priorities, but having a shared vision makes partnerships stronger and helps us work better together.” – Ana Aguilera, Managing Director of Programs, AMIGOS

Ana and I were both happy to reflect on the fact that AMIGOS is unique in offering a gap experience that can truly mold to the individual student. While the AMIGOS Gap Program is not a fully structured cohort-based model, neither is it a design-your-own independent travel opportunity. Rather, AMIGOS provides structured independence that gives students the space to immerse themselves deeply in another culture, while mentors, workshops, excursions, and a top-notch health & safety system guide and support them. The added components of a month-long Spanish-intensive course and a community-based internship mean that students are also walking away with tangible skills and real-world experience.

One of my favorite sessions was run by Florida State University’s Center for Undergraduate Research & Academic Engagement. It was on “Gap Years as an Essential Component of a Campus’ Internationalization Efforts.” While there can be many challenges to integrating Gap Years into the flow of higher education, FSU had three students who were able to testify to the impact of those efforts.

“Taking a gap year not only benefited me with a skill set I was able to bring back, such as mastering a new language or learning patience. It was almost more of a negation process for me…really helping me narrow down and focus on what I was really all about. After taking a gap year I became much better at decision-making.” -Lauren Thornberg, FSU Global Fellow ‘17-’18

FSU is not the only university taking an innovative approach to internationalization efforts. Our own Ana Aguilera presented on “Working With Not For: Collaboration Between Educational Institutions and Gap Providers” alongside Tufts University. Tufts’ 1+4 Bridge Year program provides admitted students the opportunity to purse a full year of service while they discover new personal, academic, and professional passions either domestically or abroad. Tufts’ commitment to international experiences, financial aid, service, and collaboration is one we hope to see adopted by more institutions in the coming years.

Rural EcuadorI personally look forward to being a part of the Gap Year Association community and invite anyone interested in learning more to reach out. Together we can make great things happen.

So I ask…

…to the students reading this – are you ready to take control of your education and experience the world?

…to the parents reading this – will you trust that your teen has the power to learn great things and become changed for the better through a gap year?

…to the educators reading this – can you support students who dare to do something different?

How can AMIGOS help you do that better? We want to be allies in helping build the bridge from the classroom to the world. 

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