If you have any further questions, please contact us.  We are eager to hear from you.

What is a gap year?

A gap year (also called a 'bridge' or 'interim' year, 'time off' or 'time out') refers to an extended period between a life stage, such as before or after college or graduate school.  Long a common rite of passage in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, taking a gap-year is becoming increasingly popular in the US. 

Sonne, a fellow student in our partner language school, describes the tradition in Denmark:

back to top

Why take a gap year?

Finding one’ s place in the world and exploring one’s passions are vital before choosing a college major and defining a life path.  With today's pressure to gain acceptance to top universities, it is often difficult to reflect and gain self-awareness necessary for critical life decisions.  Taking time away from the classroom and obtaining a broader perspective can clarify one's goals and enhance the college experience.   Read Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation by Harvard University's Dean of Admissions, Wiliam Fitzsimmons et al. for their observations on the benefit of taking time out.  back to top

Who should take a gap year?

Magic Carpet Rides recommends a gap year for all high school graduates.  The skills you gain by immersing in another culture, becoming fluent in another language,  and engaging in community service will serve you throughout your life.  Many top colleges are now encouraging all students to take time abroad and employers are looking to hire applicants with international experience in order to compete in today's global economy.  The lesson of the world's interconnection can only be learned through direct experience; there is no substitute for rubbing against the skin of our human mosaic.

Naima, who deferred matriculation from Duke University to volunteer in  a MCR partner organization in Guatemala, shares her perspective:

Will I get "off-track"?

Many college admissions officers and high school guidance counselors recommend taking a gap year, feeling that students benefit from the additional year of maturation.  Many report that students who took a gap year matriculate with an increased focus and self-awareness due to their real world experience. 

Jon Reider, Director of Admissions at San Francisco University High School and former Admissions Officer at Stanford University shares his perspective:

Why Magic Carpet Rides?

Magic Carpet Rides offers a unique program design that empowers participants to immerse into another culture, hone their language skills, and work together with local community members.  Our vetted and tested placements include high-quality, individualized language instruction; service projects matched to participant interests and potential life paths that address unmet needs in local communities with whom we partner to understand and create solutions; and opportunities for a broad range of cultural activities and natural exploration including kayaking, trekking, volcano climbing, and snorkeling.   At MCR, we provide in-country support with staff trained in medical and rescue services that, in many cases, obviate the need to seek care in foreign health systems.   back to top

What is the benefit of  an extended stay?
Becoming immersed in a new culture takes time.  During a fall semester, participants can learn how to navigate life in a developing country, achieve at least travel fluency in Spanish, and gain an understanding of the highlights of Guatemala.  Coming back for a second semester, the experience deepens and as participants can become more integrated into the local community.   For students dedicating an entire year, Guatemala becomes a second home, transforming the tourist experience into true community connection.   back to top

What qualities define a strong MCR participant?

Magic Carpet Rides seeks individuals with a sense of adventure and desire to contribute to our global community.  While we request transcripts, test scores and letters of recommendation to gain a broader understanding of an applicant, previous academic success is not a sole determinant of admissions.  Magic Carpet Rides strives to attract mature, diverse participants eager to explore the world and discover themselves.  back to top

I already completed a year or two of college.  Can I still apply to Magic Carpet Rides?

Yes, taking time out is a great idea at any age.  So if you are between high school and college, or university semesters, or perhaps transferring to another college, we welcome your application.   back to top

Does Magic Carpet Rides offer college credit?

Given a flexible curriculum and length of stay, Magic Carpet Rides does not offer college credit.  However, the degree of fluency you should achieve will likely allow you to meet Spanish language requirements to receive credit through your university.  back to top

I already speak Spanish fluently.  Will I be bored?

Magic Carpet Rides' curriculum allows you to individualize your experience.  Bilingual participants may choose to explore Latin American literature, learn a Mayan language or delve straight into a service project.  We work with you to ensure you are fully challenged and engaged in the experience.  back to top

I want to do community service but I just worked really hard in high school.

While community service is 'work' and requires commitment, for many participants, it is the most memorable component of the MCR program.  Sharing one's gifts and receiving appreciation is genuinely gratifying.  Participants can assume responsibility (unimaginable in the US due to liability issues) that empowers them to try professions and gain more clarity about their life paths.  back to top

Why Guatemala?

Guatemala, one of CNN's top 10 destinations for 2011, offers a world of difference just a short flight away.  With a large indigenous population dressing in traditional clothing and speaking 26 dialects, Guatemala offers an unrivaled opportunity for cultural immersion.  Antigua, named as the world's top destination in 2009 by UK's Wanderlust travel magazine, is renowned for excellent Spanish schools, attracting students from all over the world.

Endemic poverty in Guatemala provides an opportunity for meaningful service projects, and in a country where many indigenous Maya do not progress past a fifth-grade education, our participants can truly make a difference.

Guatemala's stunning natural landscape offers many opportunities for natural exploration including volcano and jungle trekking, white water rafting and lake relaxation.  Ancient traces of the Maya heritage can be discovered in important archeology sites in Northern Guatemala.  Guatemala's location provides a convenient base to explore the treasures of Central America, such as the world's second largest barrier reef off the coast of Honduras and Belize.  back to top

Will I be safe?

Travel in developing countries has inherent risks that can be minimized through appropriate precautions.  Through a pre-departure guidebook and on-site orientation, we share ways to ensure a safe and successful gap year.  Magic Carpet Rides liaises with the U.S. Embassy and Guatemala Institute of Tourism to support your well-being.  MCR provides in-country phone support and is trained in Emergency Medical Services.   Appropriate vaccinations and travel documents are mandatory. back to top

Do I need any vaccinations?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all travelers to Guatemala consult a health-care provider who specializes in travel medicine at least 4-6 weeks before departure.  All routine vaccines such as influenza, chickenpox (or varicella), polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) should be current.  In addition, the CDC recommends vaccines for Hepatits A and B, and Typhoid as well as chloroquine pills to prevent malaria.  Please note that malaria is not a risk in Antigua or Lake Atitlan.  back to top

What travel documents/ visas do I need?

You will need a US passport valid for the duration of your time in Central America.  90-day entry visas are issued upon arrival at the airport in Guatemala City.  back to top

What type of insurance do you recommend?

All participants are required to have health insurance.  Participants under the age of 21 are likely covered under their parents health care insurance.  Optional travel insurance provides baggage, accident and medical protection.  We will send you further details upon acceptance. back to top

What should I pack?

We provide a detailed packing list.  Recommendations include packing light, bringing a versatile and culturally-sensitive wardrobe and leaving valuables at home. back to top

What is the weather like in Guatemala?

Guatemala offers an ideal climate, with much of the country enjoying sunny days in the 70's or 80's, cooling to the 60's at night.  Diverse topography results in micro-climates dependent on altitude and terrain. The lowlands in the northern Peten area are hot and humid.  In the high plains, winter nights can be chilly, although the sun brings daytime temperatures up to the mid 70's. 

Guatemala experiences two seasons: wet (May - September) and dry (October - April).  In the highlands, expect about an hour of rain per day during the wet season.  In the jungle, the rainy season can extend through December.  back to top

Can special diets be accommodated?

Yes.  Many participants are vegetarian and home-stay families are accustomed to providing vegetarian options.  If you have other dietary restrictions, please contact us.  back to top

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.