Thinking Beyond Borders
Thinking Beyond Borders Programs
Your gap year should be the experience of a lifetime, shaping your future with passion and purpose. Thinking Beyond Borders has set the standard for gap year programs by...
Thinking Beyond Borders Reviews
A unique gap year program that encourages you to grow
Submitted by Emily B | April 19, 2018
Overall, I had an amazing time with Thinking Beyond Borders. I participated in the fall 2017 Asia Gap Semester program, and spent time in Thailand, Cambodia, and India.
I think TBB is unique from many other gap programs like it. It doesn’t just focus on growth through external means, ie; assuming that just because you’re thrust overseas in an unfamiliar environment and culture that you will grow and change as a person. The program leaders really mentor you, helping you to challenge yourself internally through critical thinking.
Before I went on TBB, I thought the biggest challenge would be external things like culture shock, strange food, spending three months overseas, etc. But I actually found out that I adjusted to those aspects of the program really well. What ended up being harder (in a good way) was all the critical thinking I did during the program (aided by the environment TBB creates…..the daily seminars….and discussions with my program leaders and peers). The real challenges for me ended up being things like:
- Grappling with both my sense of self and my sense of “fitting in,” as I adjusted to life within my foreign host families and my TBB peer group
- Realizing just how much my assumptions and expectations for Thailand and India shaped the lens through which I experienced those places
- Trying to push back and challenge those assumptions
- Coming to terms with just how ethically, culturally, and historically complicated the solutions to any world problems are.
I think this environment of critical thinking that TBB creates is extremely valuable and applicable in any career.
The TBB program was my first time overseas, and I had a kind of passionate desperation to see and experience as much as possible. However, the village in Thailand where we spent the first 5 weeks of the program was very isolated, and even though we had free time every afternoon, there wasn’t really anything to do or explore independently. Even in India and Cambodia, when we weren’t in such isolated places, there were still times where I wished we could have gotten out and “explored more.” I’m a pretty independent learner, (I’ve been homeschooled most of my life) and sometimes I got a little antsy with all the time we spent in self-contained seminars. I think TBB could plan a few more weekend trips away from the “home base” town, or add an independent travel segment for students on the semester-long programs, like they have on the global gap year.
I also wished we could have learned more our host family’s ethnic Hmong culture while we were in Thailand. Our translator didn’t speak the Hmong language (only Thai), and so we had a very limited ability to communicate with our host families and other members of the village. While it’s certainly a learning experience to live with a family and not be able to verbally communicate with them, I felt like our experience would have been greatly enriched if we had a better understanding/appreciation for the culture.
I was seriously considering traveling solo for my gap year, and probably would have satisfied my exploring bug more by going that route. However…… I learned so much from TBB that I don’t think I would have by just traveling solo. TBB has changed the way I view international and human rights issues, and it’s also given me a more critical perspective myself and my place in the world. You can travel solo at any time during your life, but there aren’t many chances to do something like TBB, where you join an accepting, close-knit community of peers and program leaders, and travel and learn the world together. There’s something very special that kind of environment.
So overall, I would highly recommend Thinking Beyond Borders as a gap year program. Be realistic in your expectations of the program (there are certain logistical and safety concerns that come along with taking a group of students overseas). And understand that TBB isn’t going to automatically hand you a “life-changing experience.” No program, no matter what it is, can do that. But if you use Thinking Beyond Borders as a tool for your learning, and come in with an open mind and heart, I think it can (and very likely will) be life-changing for you.
For the love of learning
Submitted by John - Occidental College | April 18, 2018
I was part of Thinking Beyond Borders' (TBB) Global Gap Year Program from September 2016 through March 2017. I applied to the program on July 31, and the TBB staff prepared me to leave for a global adventure by September 12; that's a very clear example of how professional, helpful and approachable the TBB staff members are.
I traveled with 12 students from across the USA and Germany, and three program leaders who have masters degrees in international education. We studied different aspects of international development in six countries, which included Public Health in Ghana, Sustainable Agriculture in Thailand, and Education in Ecuador. We also traveled to Cambodia to learn the Cambodian Genocide and visit Angkor Wat, as well as to Peru to learn the Inca Civilization and hike to Machu Picchu. We spent our final three weeks in Washington, D.C., meeting with international development organizations such as the World Bank, USAID, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and we also spent 10 days in a Virginia state park reflecting on our life-changing experiences prior to returning home.
In each of the core countries (Ghana, Thailand and Ecuador in my case), students have a work site where they shadow local experts in order to learn development through real-life experiences. Students also complete a rigorous academic program to accompany their experience-based learning. Fear not, students can participate in the academic portion as much or as little as they wish (but you'll get a lot out of non-traditional academic learning!!). For example, in Thailand where we studied sustainable agriculture, I worked on my parents' organic farm every morning harvesting rice or planting vegetables, and in the afternoon I studied the American and Thai corporate food system with my TBB peers. I discovered how organic farming gives farmers more autonomy over their finances because they have closer relations with their customers and their land is in better condition. I've discovered that I learn best when I connect my learning to real life experiences.
TBB believes that learning is academic, social, emotional, and cultural. Holistic learning is a big part of this program. If you are someone who loves to learn, but maybe you're tired of traditional academia, I would definitely recommend this program to you.
Finally, the relationships that students make with one another and their host families is a key part of the experience. You'll gain new families across the world, some of who you don't speak the same language as. Additionally, your TBB peers and program leaders will support you as you challenge your assumptions, discover who you are, and grapple with very big questions.
Now, I am at Occidental College studying Diplomacy and World Affairs. I continue to think TBB every day because it radically altered the way I see myself and the world.