The Most Unique Year of College
on the Planet
A full academic year of experience, adventure & reflection to cultivate the whole person. LEAPYEAR includes:
- 10 weeks of group travel in India or Latin America,
- a 3-month individual internship of your own choosing,
- 2 months of intensive inner-directed retreats focused on navigating successfully into adulthood, career and job-readiness exploration, a curriculum of Life Skills Learning
- formal and informal Rites of Passage, and
- full accreditation & FAFSA financial aid
education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a
conformist: it should furnish you with an original spirit with
which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find
values which will be your road map through life; it should make
you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing,
wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you
what is important, how to live and how to die."
- John Taylor Gatto
"Nine month, six
countries, and more than enough experiences for a lifetime, it’s
hard to believe my LEAPYEAR journey is coming to an end. The
fact that my life journey is just beginning is even harder to
believe. My accomplishments over the past year cannot be
measured in the classroom. I have obtained a worldview, climbed
a volcano, found love, SCUBA dived in Madagascar, learned a
language, stood on pyramids, learned to live consciously, hugged
a baobab tree, and the list goes on. I have been reborn a
thousand times and I reflect that change. My connection with
myself and everyone and everything else that exists in this
world feels natural and true. My awareness of myself in this
work has never felt so clear, so real, and so constant.
Challenges and mistakes have become friends whom I love dearly.
Integrity has become my source when I need balance. Questions
have become my guide and answers have become stepping stones to
bigger and more specific questions. Life is my journey, my
journey has a purpose. I have discovered my personal legend; I
have never felt so enthused to dive into the unknown."
- Kyle O’Brien, LYR 2007/08 Graduate,
who spent his group travel in Central America and solo internship in Madagascar.
LEAPYEAR is unique because, unlike 98% of all programs, it emphasizes the all-important inner journey as much as the outer journey in the world.
No journey carries one far unless,
as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal
distance into the world within.
- Lillian Smith
This inner journey is facilitated through 4 residential retreats totaling 8 weeks at the LEAPNOW campus in northern California. These retreats, ranging in length from 8 to 21 days, form the backbone of the LEAPYEAR program. They bracket 4 distinctive journeys: Group Travel, Going Home after Group Travel, the four Retreats & the Individual Internship. Students put aside their phones, iPods, texting and Internet to minimize distraction and virtual engagement, and focus on hearing their unique and guiding inner voice.
Retreat #1 is devoted to:
- Learning about the program in detail
- Meeting your group, the leaders & the LEAPNOW Staff
- Creating your traveling community for group travel
- Make agreements together to foster a great group experience
- Learning skills for conscious communication and community
- Beginning to choose your Individual Internship
The daily schedule for each retreat includes 3-5 hours of participatory and embodied classes in our studio, one hour of a physical discipline (yoga, t'ai chi, dance), four hours of outdoor work or cooking/baking, and free time. The schedule is full and all activities are real and relevant. Learn more about our Living Skills Curriculum.
"We travel initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves… We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate… We travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more."
- Pico Iyer
Nepal & India
Religion, Service, and Cultural Immersion
in Nepal & Northern India
Language, Service & Environmental Work
in Guatemala, Nicaragua & Honduras
During the first semester of a LEAPYEAR, students travel in groups of 8-12 with two experienced adult leaders. During the 2015 LEAPYEAR programs, students have the following choices:
Fall 2015 LEAPYEAR: Students can choose between groups that travel to Nepal & India or Central America.
January 2016 LEAPYEAR: LEAPYEAR groups will be traveling throughout Nepal and North India. The groups travel together for a total of 10 weeks.
The emphasis is on breadth of experience - immersion in the language, sampling of diverse short-term internships, social service work, trekking, work with endangered animals or on behalf of the environment, and completion of short-term yoga or meditation retreats. During these group travel months, students learn the skills they will need to live, travel and work independently during the individual internship in the second half of the year.
Whatever its destination, what sets
a sacred journey apart from an everyday walk, an
adventure, or a tourist trip is the spirit in which it
is undertaken. It is sacred if it sensitizes the
individual to the deeper realities of his own being and
of the world about him – if it brings together the inner
and outer worlds, the physical landscape serving as a
mirror for the inner one."
- Roger Housden, Sacred Journeys in the Modern World
Retreat #2 follows 10 weeks of intensive group experiences in Asia or Latin America. This is the time when most programs fall short – they neglect to give participants the needed time and space to digest their experiences BEFORE going home. Indeed, many programs “complete” the travel experience by saying goodbye to you at the airport in the U.S! This limits how much you can learn, and borders on irresponsible!. So much learning happens for people AFTER they have an experience. As Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Our program design gives you 8-9 days to land gently back in the U.S., re-connect with the full LEAPYEAR group, and reflect on and harvest the uniquely personalized lessons of your travel experiences BEFORE you return to your family and familiar surroundings.
During Retreat #2, LEAPYEAR students:
- Rest and recover from jet lag
- Get back together with the larger LEAPYEAR group
- Harvest what they learned from 10 weeks of travel & myriad diverse experiences
- Complete their academic work for the first semester of the year, and make presentations to the group about their journey
- Land their second semester individual internships
- Prepare to travel home
Retreat #2 looks both backwards and forward. It is a significant thing to travel home after 10 weeks immersed in life in Asia or Latin America, so this retreat is a vital time to prepare for the shock and potential awakening of Going Home.
"There is nothing like returning to
a place that has remained unchanged, to see the ways in
which you yourself have altered."
- Nelson Mandela, after his release from prison
Unlike a traditional college journey, traveling home after the first semester is an integral and important part of the LEAPYEAR learning journey – we don’t separate your life from your learning! On the contrary, returning to someplace familiar after group travel and seeing it with new eyes is a tremendous learning opportunity, an opportunity to understand yourself better. Rather than going back home, LEAPYEAR students are encouraged to go forward home!
To support this learning, the curriculum continues during the mid-program break. Daily writing and contemplative practices begun at the start of the program continue at home. Students give presentations about their group travel to schools, friends and family, they interview their parents about their childhood and birth, and begin to write an autobiography.
The mid-program break time is also when students begin to do directed research for their individual internship. Because each student chooses their internship based on their unique interests, their learning plan for the final semester must needs be unique. At this point in the program, students begin to grapple with the challenges and opportunities of designing their own education. This is a vital skill, since we each ideally become the director of our own lifelong learning. The idea is that LEAPYEAR students have the opportunity to realize that education isn’t about jumping through someone else’s hoops, but it’s about creating and meeting your own learning challenges, in the light of your unique and specific life purpose.
“And the time came when the risk to
remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it
took to blossom."
- Anaïs Nin
Retreat #3 lies at the center of LEAPYEAR. The group travel opens you up to the world, and helps you question the reality and assumptions that you grew up with. The first two retreats serve to grow community and foster trust. Now, after five months journeying together, the group is ready to dive together into themselves.
The Third Retreat is designed to take you gently and steadily into the depths of yourself as you reflect intentionally on the transition you are in and what it means to become an adult. We examine our thoughts about ourselves and the personas/masks we have adopted for safety. We learn about feelings – what they are, where they live in our bodies and most importantly, what to do with them. We learn about the ways we sabotage ourselves, and our reliable essential gifts. We express creativity as a daily practice. We take time to define a vision of adulthood that calls us forward into life.
Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis said, “It takes a long time to learn to play like yourself.” One of the overarching goals of LEAPYEAR is to align yourself with yourself. We have only to look as far as one of our fingerprints to realize that each person is specific and mysterious. David Whyte said: We are the only creature in creation that can refuse to be itself. You never hear a crow saying…..Oh, if I could only be an eagle! We are the only creature in creation that can live in exile. That is why it is an absolute triumph to just be yourself. We say “Just be Yourself.” Actually, it’s the most frightening thing to be. The entire LEAPYEAR, and particularly the retreats, are time set aside to learn how to be yourself. This isn’t something to leave to chance!
LEAPYEAR retreats are also a time that some students are able to lay down burdens that have been carried for too long: old griefs, incomplete relationships, parental divorce, the loss of a sibling or loved one. When do we normally give ourselves a chance to consciously let go of the incomplete past? It’s a hidden benefit, but very important.
Retreat #3 culminates in a 3-day formal Rite of Passage into adulthood. Parents come to the campus for the final two days, with the purpose of witnessing this transition, letting go of what needs to be released, and giving their blessings for the passage into adulthood.
Three days after the Rite of Passage ceremony, each student “enacts” adulthood in the form of their Individual Internship which is an informal, but even more important, Rite of Passage. For students the presence of their parents and knowing they are getting on a plane for three months of unique travel and engagement in the world confers special relevance on the formal ceremony. For parents, the Rite of Passage is unusually real because they know they will be letting their “child” go for extended work and travel in some far away place. The trust and validation implicit in this letting go is very powerful for both the students and parents.
"We have only to follow the thread
of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an
abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought
to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had
thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center
of our own existence. And where we had thought to be
alone, we shall be with all the world."
- Joseph Campbell
"Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white."
― Mark Jenkins
LEAPNOW maintains an unparalleled database of over 6,100 internships, volunteer options, work exchanges and apprenticeships which are available only to LEAPYEAR and LEAPYEAR2 students. We have amassed this database through travel, networking and research since 1977, and it is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.
The internship is an incredible opportunity to explore an interest in depth or “try on” a field you are considering majoring in college or doing for a living
The breadth of these options allows us to ask questions that are asked far too rarely in educational environments: "If you could wave your magic wand, what would you most like to do? What learning environment would bring you most alive? What’s the "juiciest" thing you can conceive of doing for 3 months?"
In his book, "Drive," Daniel Pink identified three elements of true motivation: 1) autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, 2) mastery, the desire to continually improve at something that matters, and 3) purpose, the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves. These elements are too often completely missing from traditional schooling, but are integral to the LEAPYEAR individual internship.
Individual Internships allow you to:
- Explore an interest in depth and "try on" a field you are considering majoring in college or doing for a living
- Live and volunteer just about anywhere in the world
- Immerse yourself in a culture and gain language fluency
- Choose and control your learning environment, perhaps for the first time
- Serve others, "give back," and be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Benefit from a traveling community - with regular communication with up to 30 others who are doing parallel adventures and the LEAPNOW staff
- Have the independent adventure of a lifetime
The LEAPYEAR internship is NOT intended for wandering, pursuit of distraction or recreation, or simply touring around. It's a chance to further your development and evolution as a human being. The internship begins three days after and builds naturally on the formal Rite of Passage at the end of Third Retreat, allowing you to "enact" adulthood in real and profoundly meaningful way.
Please note that the internships available to LEAPYEAR students number in the thousands and range across 126 countries, including the United States. Here are some of the thousands that are offered:
- Work with children just about anywhere in the world - in schools, orphanages, on the streets, in refugee camps and other settings,
- Medical work outside of the United States - in Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Africa, and many other locations,
- Alternative healing internships: herbalism, Ayurveda, bodywork, etc.,
- Building construction in the U.S and many other countries – conventional, sustainable and alternative methods. Build treehouses in Japan,
- Work on organic farms throughout the world - Australia, NZ, Africa, Asia, Latin America, the U.S, Europe, and the Caribbean,
- Work with animals in the U.S., Australia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Kenya, South Africa, India, Argentina, Nepal, and other countries. Work with elephants, primates, pumas, birds, sea turtles, penguins, musk oxen, baby baboons, horses and farm animals, Great White Sharks, and more,
- Arts & crafts study and apprenticeship in Latin America, India, Africa, Europe, Canada, and Asia. Blacksmithing, jewelry-making, glass blowing, weaving, print-making, fashion design,
- Work with scientists - ecology, botany, marine science, forestry, archaeology, anthropology and more,
- Work with midwives in Latin America, Indonesia, Africa and elsewhere,
- Spiritual study: yoga retreats, ashrams, meditation, etc.,
- Hotel management internships, work in chateaus in France, retreat center internships. Work at intentional & sustainable communities throughout the world,
- Political internships in the UK, Australia & Switzerland,
- SCUBA dive internships in the Galapagos, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Thailand, and on the Great Barrier Reef,
- Work with women's issues and women's empowerment groups throughout the world,
- Serve people with disabilities, the very poor, the dying, the blind or deaf, the homeless and those who are autistic or developmentally delayed,
- Language immersion and homestays throughout the world,
- Historical restoration,
- Work with indigenous people in the U.S. and abroad, work on remote Pacific islands,
- Teach at outdoor education centers in the U.S. and New Zealand, and lead treks in the Guatemalan highlands,
- Apprentice in recording studios or work with filmmakers or photographers,
- Study marine science, support the UN in Switzerland, cook in a kibbutz kitchen in Israel, and teach English to Tibetan Buddhist monks & nuns,
- Study drumming and dance in Ghana and Tanzania,
- Teaching tennis in Barcelona or coach soccer in India,
- Do tsunami relief work in Indonesia,
----- and much more....
"Information, when combined with
experience, becomes knowledge. When this knowledge
becomes the frequency upon which we base our thoughts,
words and deeds, then we are entering the resonance
- Michael Brown
This quote only becomes true if we give time and attention to our lives. An important purpose of Retreat #4 is to distill the information and experiences of the year into useful knowledge and wisdom that can guide your steps forward after LEAPYEAR.
Retreat #4 is when the individual traveler is welcomed back into the celebratory embrace of their group. Like retreat #2 it’s a time to give a presentation: to tell the story of your adventure and map the journey you’ve made through the year. It’s a time to connect heaven and earth – the visions you’ve glimpsed for your life, and the specific next steps you’ll take.
Grounding, integration and completion are the guiding words of this final retreat together. You not only map the defining and pivotal moments of the year, when the veils parted and you glimpsed some essential aspect of your life purpose, but you also translate the year onto your resume. You learn how to talk about your experiences in ways that will make sense to a job interviewer or college admissions officer. You will learn skills needed to carry out both your “survival dance” and your “soul dance.” How do you feed yourself through your 20’s and become financially independent, and how do you carry your unique gift into the world as an offering?
By this time of the year, it is common to hear students say, “I feel closer to this group of people than I have ever been to any other group.” So this is also a time for celebration and grieving the ending of the experience.
LEAPYEAR was first envisioned in 2001 and post-program connection to support and community was built in from the time of conception. We didn’t want to create an amazing year then tell our students to “have a nice life!” You can click on POST-LEAPYEAR SUPPORT & RESOURCES below the program map to see the many ways that LEAPYEAR continues after the first year is done.
"To undertake a pilgrimage is to
place yourself at risk. Not just….physical risks…..but a
deeper risk. The risk that you might not return as the
same person who set out. The risk that all you had
thought you know, understood, had perhaps carefully
constructed in your mind, might be blown apart….there is
a second risk. The risk that you will be surprised by
joy….only when you are prepared to chance the deepest
dangers of risk or joy do you become a true pilgrim."
- Roger Housden
LEAPYEAR is a year of intense and intimate experiences. Students become very close and our staff gets to know students really well. LEAPYEAR doesn’t end when the program is over. We encourage students to return to campus to visit, to renew themselves, to remain connected to their group, to give back at retreats, to lead future travel groups, and to fill staff positions. We hold the campus as a home for our students – a place and community that they can return to over and over. Many LEAPYEAR grads go on to colleges with communities of LEAPYEAR graduates in place, which generally makes for a saner and more supportive college experience.
Google Groups: While doing Individual Internships and while scattered all over the planet, each group and staff stay in touch by posting to an online group. This makes for a communal and connected experience of the internships. These online groups remain active after the year is over, and they become a place of ongoing dialogue and connection – usually for at least 2-3 years after the year is over.
A year of life path counseling and internships placements: Built into the LEAPYEAR tuition is 12 months of internship placement after graduation. Some students don’t get enough of travel and exploration during LEAPYEAR and some wish to gain more specific career or academic-related experience. We assist graduates to create ongoing learning adventures for themselves. One graduate who did her LEAPYEAR Individual Internship with a printmaker in Cuba, created a further six months of study with artists in the year after LEAPYEAR. She apprenticed with artists throughout India, southeast Asia, Indonesia and Australia/New Zealand. Before choosing to complete college in Scotland, she was able to work with ceramicists, silk painters, wood carvers, jewelry-makers and many other artists.
Annual reunions: Each June, we hold a reunion for all LEAPYEAR graduates at the LEAPNOW campus. This is an opportunity to reconnect with group members, get to know other LEAPYEAR graduates, remember what you learned, track your own growth each year after the program, and be exposed to new materials that we are constantly developing.
LEAPYEAR Two: LEAPYEAR2 (LYR2) is a second year program available exclusively to LEAPYEAR graduates and it builds on what is taught in LEAPYEAR. Whereas much of the focus of LEAPYEAR is on unlimiting your life and taking off the ceiling to your vision, LYR2 is much more focused on turning vision into grounded action. The cost of LEAPYEAR2 is half of LEAPYEAR and the responsibility is doubled. During LYR2 students help hold the "learning container" for the next LEAPYEAR group, learn to self-design their education, run the campus kitchen and work on the land, and pursue studies focused on education, embodied learning, conscious leadership, sustainability, or movement. Due to small group size and the intensity of the program, individual mentoring during LYR2 is much greater than during LEAPYEAR.