In 2016, the White house announced that Michelle Obama won’t be going (directly) to college and decided to do a gap year abroad. Well, I will be honest with you I am very glad she made this choice. I am certain about the fact that this gap year will help her to broaden her mind and learn more about other cultures.

In 2013, at 22 years old, I decided to do a gap year and to plan it myself. Needless to say, planning for this trip was an incredible adventure on its own. I didn’t want to spend money in purchasing all-inclusive packages to go abroad and wanted to truly experience the whole process from A to Z.

For High School graduates, it may still be better to go through organisations specialised in sending students abroad for a gap year. There are several opportunities for a gap year abroad like internships, studying abroad (high school or college), volunteering, summer jobs, backpacking, etc. In this article, I will share with you 5 skills I deepen further through the gap year planning.

1: Strategic Planning and goal setting

I have always had a very strategic mind (INTJ anyone?). When the idea of doing a gap year came to my mind, I obviously got excited about the whole planning process. What will I do? Where? For how long? Why?

The first thing I did was to take a notebook and to write down all of my ideas. This is where the SMART method comes in very handy. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Little by little, step by step I worked on each of these aspects. I was going to go to China for 6 months and then to Argentina for 3 months. After that, I would come back early, in May to attend Master’s degree selection interviews and tests. My main goal was to discover the Chinese business culture, Argentinean culture and to improve my Chinese and Spanish language levels.

Well … I won’t lie to you … I didn’t do any of that! Neither did I go to intern in China, nor did I go to work in Argentina! What happened? It seems that my whole plan failed for several reasons: New visa regulations in China, higher visa costs resulting in low ROI for companies, etc.

So what did I do? Gave up and threw in the towel? Of course not, my name is Mama Sow, not “Give Up”.

2: So I took in the deception and created a contingency plan …

By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail – Benjamin Franklin

Instead of going to China for 6 months, I decided to go to South Korea, to learn Korean and visit the country, followed by Taiwan, a place I love, to volunteer for more than a month, and finish with Chile, a country I knew nothing about but seemed like a very interesting place to go to.

3: Always plan in advance …

I found my job as a receptionist about 6 months before going to Chile through a French forum dedicated to international travel. I was ready to buy my plane ticket.

Speaking about plane ticket, how will I pay for it? How will I afford all of these trips?  Well, I had to think about it in advance and start saving. I also went for working and volunteering abroad instead of studying or visiting.

Thanks to my scholarship, what I earned, being sheltered by my family, and with the help of my parents, I’ve had saved more than 3000 euros in less than 6 months. Just like Marie Forleo said in her audio course, when you want something to happen, you make it happen.

4: Time management

While I was planning for this memorable experience, I was actually an intern in New York in the US. Even though I started to feel overwhelmed at first, generous colleagues offered their help in the process by correcting my Spanish CV for example and giving me thorough advice. I also made sure to schedule during my free time my gap year planning actions.

5: Communication and dealing with FOMO

Finally, I had to persuade my parents (should I say my father), that doing a gap year abroad was necessary for me. That was not easy, but by giving strong arguments such as how this experience will help me to be more employable and the fact that I wasn’t leaving school and wanted get a master’s degree, helped my parents to accept this idea.

Another thing I had to deal with, is the FOMO issue. Listening to my gut helped me to focus on my vision, goal, even if other more rational things were coming into my mind: You will lose a year, will you be able to go back to school normally afterward?, will you lose track in your studies?, etc.

So if you are currently employed, or maybe even a student, who would like to go abroad for a year, just know that it is a great opportunity to grow as a person, to meet amazing people and to gain valuable insights about how the world works.