career development

Gap Experiences + Emotional Intelligence: An Unstoppable Force

Emotional intelligence (EQ), is being able to recognize, control, and express your emotions, and having the skills to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically and judiciously.

EQ is a major buzzword these days across the media and more often, education. You may have heard of “social and emotional learning” or even its cousin, intercultural competence (cue our philosophy).

But it’s not only educators who see the value of EQ, The business world has begun to recognize its significance for successful leadership and teamwork. In fact, leadership and employee development programs at many companies are centered around the idea of improving their employees’ EQ to improve company productivity levels.

Today’s companies are now looking for people’s “soft skills” or emotional intelligence on job interviews as a major component as to whether or not to hire a candidate. According to the World Economic Forum's report, "The Future of Jobs," emotional intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills by 2020.

Even Oprah extols the virtues of EQ, claiming there may be many people with higher IQs than her in the world, but her ability to feel what others are feeling and have compassion for what others are going through (her EQ) is what has led her to be truly successful in life.

In fact, when it comes to her own success, Oprah attributes high EQ as more important than high IQ.

So why not work on deepening your emotional intelligence even before you start college?

A gap year is a great way to experience the transformative learning that leads to a higher emotional intelligence level and ultimately a more successful life.

Data suggests that having a higher EQ equates not only to higher academic achievement, but also enhances school cultures’ as students with high EQs are more self aware, confident, empathetic and better at connecting with others.

Gap years have been reported to teach students three essential components of emotional intelligence: empathy, self-awareness, and how to build healthy relationships:

  1. Empathy: Students engaging with themselves, the Other, and the world, as they do on a gap year, provides them with the opportunity to see firsthand that all humans experience the same emotions, suffering and joys, helping them to gain compassion for difference and understanding for the Other’s position in the world.

  2. Self awareness: By being abroad and immersing oneself in another culture, students are able to see one’s own cultural makeup and to recognize that they are products of their own cultures. Their encounters in a different culture will force students to have heightened awareness about their own behavior and its impact.

  3. Relationship building: As students interact with people in a foreign country at a deeper level, their well-being depends on forming relationship within difference. This human relationship based learning experience helps them to learn how to connect with and build healthy relationships with people who are different than them.

    Hands down, one of the biggest perks of our jobs as gap year counselors is not the site visits (though we do love those), but we love witnessing our students return from their gap year with greater maturity, a sense of purpose and direction, and increased emotional intelligence.

Picture of brain. Emotional Intelligence and gap year experiences.

Cultivating a Global Skill Set

Do college admissions counselors and employers value gap year and education abroad experiences?

A resounding YES. But there’s a caveat.

Students need to be able to clearly articulate what lessons they learned while abroad and how those translate to a global skill set.

Gap Year. Global Skill Set. Counselor Talking to Gap Year Student.

The best strategy I offer to my students is to use the CAR approach whether it’s for college or graduate school admission, a competitive scholarship or fellowship, or internship/job.

CAR: Challenge. Action. Resolution.

Consider what comes to mind when you think about the following:

  1. What was the challenge or conflict you faced?

  2. What action did you take?

  3. What was the resolution?

Take some time to journal and reflect upon your time abroad, whether you participated in a summer program or you are attending university full-time abroad. Answering these questions will also help you look back on some of your transformative experiences:

  • What was the most challenging situation you faced during your experience abroad, and how did you deal with it?

  • Give an example of something from your study abroad experience that has changed you and why?

  • Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems abroad and developed preventative measures?

From living with a host family in a South African township to adapting to your professor's cultural expectations of you and your academic work, you probably had to overcome a lot of challenges while abroad.

The point is, you must be able to tell your story and what you gained from it. And that takes practice and preparation!

global skill set gap year