I thought about this a lot and spoke to many kids and young adults about the subject.
Here is what I found:
A great many kids graduate from high school without a clear direction. They really want to get away, meet people from different cultures and experience a world outside of the one they have known. They want to broaden their horizons, to grow up.
Now, I don’t at all advocate travel in place of higher education. I think of travel as a bridge to open the awareness of children to cultural differences. It could afford a maturity which might be eluding them were they to go from high school directly to college.
Of course this is not always the case: there are those people who knew ever since they were toddlers what it was they wanted to do with their lives. It’s strange, some of these kids are passionately clear on where they are heading. May they be scientists, Rabbis, mathematicians, doctors or world leaders, they have no need to figure anything out. They are in a hurry to forge ahead and begin the journey, or, more than likely, continue it.
However, a great many kids enter college as freshmen and, as it turns out, the first year is a massive upheaval. One out four is fully prepared for college level work and the rest are bewildered, wondering what they are doing there and are they even ready for all of this. They begin wondering where they are heading and what the purpose of this stressful hard work is. Many drop out after one semester. In my opinion, the reason is simply because they are immature, and have not gone through the customary period of maturation between high school and university. As an example – in Israel kids go to the army after high school and after two years of service it’s an accepted ritual to have a group of kids go backpacking overseas. The Chabad in every town is very welcoming with providing meals for the religious youngsters. The secular Jewish kids are also welcome or simply fend for themselves. All over Europe, Australia, Scandinavia and Israel the average freshman is around 22-23 years old as opposed to their 18-year-old American counterparts. It makes a very big difference according to professors who have taught overseas as well as in the US. They say that most American college students are not ripe and could benefit greatly from a lengthy stay abroad. A year in Israel meeting new people and experiencing new thing could potentially do wonders. If the family is feeling safe in having brought up a solid and trustworthy kid, they can feel good about supporting their child in traveling the world with a group of their friends. They will return far better equipped to know who they are and what it is they want to do with their lives.