Category Archives: Finding Yourself

Focus: Give Your Gap

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Many students believe that after graduation they must throw themselves right into the flames of the tough job market, whether they feel prepared for the heat or not. However, what founders of GiveYourGap.Org, Kimberly Ang and Amber Rackliffe wishto do is encourage graduates to take a year after graduation to offer their services to volunteer organizations locally and abroad. I attended their on-campus webinar last week where the marketing and outreach director, Joeva Rock, phoned in with a small group on campus to introduce us to their organization and the benefits of giving a gap year. 

The very young founders were UC San Diego alumni who were somewhat intimidated to step into a faltering economy, but who also had an insatiable desire to see the world before they settled down into a “stable career.” They both decided to take a year after their undergraduate studies to volunteer abroad, but were shocked to learn that, not only was the process much more complicated than they had though, but it was often unreasonably expensive. And for recent grads dealing with the anxiety of student loan debt looming in the near future, this was a bit discouraging. So they found a new goal, to help others deciding what to do with the “scary time after graduation,” and connect them to the resources that would make this alternative course of action a possibility.

Their website, GiveYourGap.Org, helps organize the process of looking for the best option for one’s volunteer goals, especially for those with limited funds. This emphasis particularly appealed to me, as I also found it hard to understand why volunteers must be charged a fee of thousands of dollars. The site links users to nonprofit organizations that are constantly accepting international volunteers, as well as the different websites that access a variety of scholarships and program information. It also provides tips and testimonials from other featured “gappers” that have used the site, with the promise that a social networking sector is also in the works, to create a community of volunteers with similar experiences. The site was just launched last December, with the reported number of assisted students at a little over 100. However, due to the free-informational nature of the site, along with a count of daily site traffic, the estimated number is over 1000.

Kimberly Ang (who unfortunately couldn’t phone in as she was in China on the last leg of her 6-month tour of volunteer networking in Asia) also wished to express to students the advantages with taking a “gap year” to volunteer. What I took away from Joeva’s accounts, was that “giving your gap” should not simply be viewed as a deferment of responsibility, or a temporary escape from the work field. It should be seen as a voyage of personal growth, of understanding the world you live in and giving back to

Ang volunteering in the Philippines

those less fortunate.

“When you live in a country with no running water for a year, you will definitely be changed in a positive way,” remarked Joeva. “You learn to value the life that you live, challenge yourself by being in a completely different place, and develop unique relationships with the people and the culture.”

However, it does also have empirical value to give your gap. Rock, who had volunteered in Ghana for a year, was paid a stipend along with room and board during her stay there. It also equipped her with unique job skills that interested and impressed hiring employers when she came back to the United States.

So, ultimately, there is no “right way” to proceed after graduating, even though a norm does exist. But what the team at Give Your Gap want to publicize is that this option is both rewarding and timely, and, most importantly, available to all. The time to give back is when you can, and after college graduation may be the perfect time to throw caution to the wind and make that jump into helping the world.

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Focus: Shivani Singh and Dharma Express


Shivani Singh at the UCSD Job Start-up Fair

“You can go on as many soul-searching trips as you want, but you still won’t find the answers.”

Last week I met author and CEO of the company Dharma Express, Shivani Singh. This statement is what she told me inspired her to develop a program that would help recent college graduates and people in a “slump” like she once was. This UC San Diego alumni, after searching for years after graduation to find the perfect pathway for herself, found a certain technique that could be utilized to fully determine one’s passions and personal goals. She created the simple program, named from the Sanskrit word “dharma,” meaning one’s higher purpose in life. She uses this term to express the idea that we have the capability and intelligence to make an impact on the world if we could only make that purpose more clear to us.

Shivani was a Physics major who, like many college students, was in a difficult position after her undergraduate studies. Although she had been told constantly how brilliant she was, which was only reaffirmed by the position she snagged working for NASA, she still did not feel like she was using all that she had to offer in life. After 3 years of being on the nine to five work schedule, she admitted to “feeling mechanical,” and that she had lost her passion for a dream she had since she was little. She knew that she could not be the only one who felt this way, which left her frustrated at the fact that many of her classmates and coworkers were now settling for less than they could accomplish. So she left her job to travel and learn about the world, including a trip to India where she was first introduced to the concept of dharma. However, after all of this, she was still somewhat unsatisfied.

So, in an attempt to find out “the secret,” Singh read books from many of her personal heroes such as Mother Teresa, Ghandi and Pablo Picasso–people that she believed changed the world. Among all of her readings, she discovered the common denominator to be the simple act of journaling. By getting their thoughts out on paper, these brilliant minds were able to organize their character in a way that helped them to realize the pathway they wanted to take.

Shivani then began to work with neuroscientists at UC San Diego, where she decided to continue her education to flesh out a plan even more, dovetailing the journaling technique with listening to music at certain intervals. Using music to trigger certain emotions and reactions in one’s brain is not a new concept, but the research done at UCSD helped to narrow it down to a specific regimen that would ultimately create the unique process that Dharma Express promotes today.

Discover Your Dharma, is the book which outlines the way that her program can help the gifted scholars and minds around her to do exactly that. After writing it, her company began developing other platforms and forms of technology, such as web apps and blogs, which would spread her coaching sessions to reach large audiences. Shivani Singh still travels around to universities, hoping to specifically guide college students that she knows are facing the all too comon dillemma of asking, “What next?” Because, although it is pretty common knowledge that university graduates have got some serious brains, sometimes the secret lies in figuring out exactly what to do with them.