Gap years aren't just for students

Midcareer and older professionals are using the gap year as "time to go back to school, reconnect with families or friends, or follow a passion," writes Mark Miller for the New York Times.

While gap experiences can help workers discover what they want to do in retirement, few employers offer the opportunity to return to the job after an extended break. More often than not, "adult gap experiences require quitting a job," Miller writes.

Dennis Sinar is one of the lucky few who returned to the same position after his gap year. A gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at East Carolina University, Sinar decided to take a break from his career at age 59.

After contacting the Center for Interim Programs, a company that arranges gap-year experiences for students, Sinar began a summer apprenticeship to a stonemasonry expert in Alaska. During this gap year, he also traveled to Kathmandu to study holistic medicine, helped a team of archaeologists restore a castle in Romania, and realized a love of writing fiction. Now retired, Sinar estimates that he spent about $10,000 during his unpaid leave, but believes that you can't "put a price on something that changes your life," writes Miller.

I left college for a gap year—and learned why I had to go back

Other workers find themselves in entirely new careers after their gap year adventure ends. For example, Miller writes that Kathleen Baskin, a 55-year-old empty nester, worried she "wasn't learning anything new" in her position as a director of water policy. Craving a change, Baskin took the leap and enrolled in a year-long graduate program at Harvard University.

During her program, Baskin says she took "mind-bending" courses like international negotiation and diplomacy. After graduating in May, Baskin is searching for a senior leadership position at a nonprofit organization that focuses on environmental issues.

Still other workers start their gap year after retirement. After retiring from her role as a senior vice president at Bank of America, 63-year-old Kathy Thomas worked at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, tended an organic farm in Scotland, and volunteered at a home for abused girls in South Africa. By pursuing experiences that provide room and board, Thomas limits her expenses to airfare. Thomas is still pursuing adventures, and asserts that a long as she "continues to learn and grow, she plans to keep going" (Miller, New York Times, 7/14).

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