Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs by Joseph O’shea by Joseph O’Shea (review)
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Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs.
Joseph O’shea. 2014. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University press.
183 pp. Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4214-1036-4 ($29.95).
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4214-1037-1 ($29.95).

Today’s generation of college-aged students were born into a highly diverse society and have been raised with the nearly constant idea that cultural boundaries and national borders are porous. Technological enhancements, economic expansion, political activity and debate, and even media coverage of international turmoil over the past several decades have ushered in the first part of the new millennium as a “global century” with expectations that its emerging leaders will possess both local and global civic awareness and competence (AAC&U, 2011). As such, higher education is now focused on intercultural competence as an outcome of college, and institutions are engaging diversity principles and global learning practices in the effort to achieve this educational goal and develop the next generation of engaged global citizens.

Colleges and universities regularly involve students in practices such as diversity curricula, foreign language requirements, cultural events, and service activities. However, there has been a growing interest in more immersive activities, most notably study abroad opportunities, to advance global learning. Along the same line, Joseph O’Shea’s book examines an underutilized and understudied immersive intercultural learning experience: the gap year. Gap years are defined as a temporary break between secondary and tertiary/higher education typically spent engaging in activities outside of the traditional educational domain (e.g., working domestically, travelling internationally, service work). With a long history in the United Kingdom, they have become increasingly common in Australia and are more recently visible in Japan and in the United States. In particular, O’Shea focuses on international gap years observed between secondary and tertiary/higher education that represent formalized service activities administered through official organizations. While exploratory, his work is empirically grounded and uses qualitative methodology to analyze data collected from participant observations, interviews, and narrative analysis of end-of-year reports submitted by gap-year participants, nearly all of whom worked with a prominent international gap-year provider based in the United Kingdom. Thus, the majority of the gap year participants featured in the book were British but were placed in countries all over the world, including China, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Peru, Thailand, and Uganda. These data were used to achieve the book’s two goals: 1) to tell the stories of students’ motivations, experiences, and outcomes with respect to the gap year, and 2) to [End Page 484] place these stories within a theoretical narrative that draws upon the disciplines of education, philosophy, and psychology to advance our understanding of this practice and its impact on participants.

In the first half of the book, O’Shea shares detailed accounts of the gap-year participants he studied and their pathways to the experience as well as the development they undergo therein. Fittingly, the first word of nearly all the chapters in this section is “changes.” Whether it is in their sense of self, interpersonal relationships, personal values and beliefs, or future plans, O’Shea provides a compelling argument that gap-year experiences have vast potential to facilitate affective, cognitive, and interpersonal growth for the individuals in these programs. From the participants’ stories, he concludes that challenge and dissonance are the keys to these developmental processes and that throughout the gap year, participants learn to embrace difference, grapple with challenges to their current belief structure and sense of self, and incorporate it into their intellectual and interpersonal processes, which leads to their cognitive and social development. Themes highlighted in the book with respect to facing challenges and embracing change include identity exploration and development; resilience, emotional regulation, and self-confidence; distance from home; independence; being new; interpersonal relationships and balancing families of origin with new support communities; religion and moral questioning; and tolerance, understanding new issues, and forming opinions. O’Shea contends that the international context, year-long duration, and high-level of responsibility that are common characteristics of the gap year are critical components to the learning and maturation that occurs in these programs. As such...