LEAPYEAR Program Overview

LEAPYEAR is a gap year and a full year of college through Naropa University, a year of experiences, adventures & reflection. It is a transformational bridge into college, independence and an empowered adult life.   The next available LEAPYEAR starts in September 2018 and runs through May 2019, allowing completion of the first or second year of college or the final year of high school.  

LEAPYEAR includes:

  • Nine weeks of group travel in India or Latin America
  • A three-month individual internship of your own choosing
  • Two months of intensive inner-directed retreats focused on navigating successfully into adulthood
  • An experiential college curriculum of Life Skills Learning fully accredited through Naropa University
  • Formal and informal Rites of Passage
  • Full access to federal financial aid through FAFSA plus generous supplemental LEAPYEAR grants

Travel during LEAPYEAR

LEAPYEAR is filled with many opportunities for travel and adventure. The year kicks off with group travel to India or Latin America where a small cohort of students, along with experienced leaders, spend nine weeks exploring these rich cultural landscapes.

The second semester holds a three-month solo adventure designed to empower students to step fully into the realm of adulthood and personal responsibility. We encourage each student to dream big, because with our huge internship database there are possibilities to go anywhere and do just about anything you can imagine.

"Nine months, six countries, and more than enough experiences for a lifetime, it's hard to believe my LEAPYEAR journey is coming to an end. 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. Life is my journey, and 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, LEAPYEAR Alumnus (Group travel: Central America,  Solo Internship: Madagascar)


At LEAPNOW we believe that your journey of self-discovery is just as important as your physical journey into the world. This inner journey is facilitated through four residential retreats totaling seven weeks at our retreat campus in northern Colorado.

During retreats, students put aside their digital media (phones, computers, mp3 players, headphones, etc.) to minimize distraction and virtual engagement, and focus on hearing their unique and guiding inner voice as well as connecting with their peers in a new and profound way.

These retreats, ranging in length from eight to twenty-one days, form the backbone of the LEAPYEAR program. They bracket three distinctive journeys:

  • Group Travel
  • Going Home after Group Travel
  • Individual Internship

Retreats are designed to provide pre-departure support for the travel periods, as well as to provide a home base for post trip reflection on the experiences and lessons of each adventure. Each day is packed with engaged, experiential workshops and activities to help support students in getting the most out of their LEAPYEAR.

The daily schedule for each retreat includes three to five hours of workshops and discussion in our studio, one hour of a physical discipline (such as yoga, martial arts, or dance), four hours of outdoor work or cooking and baking in our community kitchen, and some free time to swim in the creek, take a walk, make music, or tackle a creative project. Learn more about our Living Skills Curriculum.

First Retreat (Nine Days)

Heading off to a foreign country with a group of eleven people is no small undertaking.  The first retreat is designed to make the group's launch in to the world as successful as possible.

The time during first retreat will be devoted to:

  • Learning about the program in detail. A vital part of a successful LEAPYEAR experience is making sure everyone understands the unique and intentional program rules and expectations.
  • Getting acquainted with everyone. There are a lot of new faces during first retreat! From the team of fantastic LEAPNOW staff, to the large group of new group members, to our amazing Group Travel Leaders, there are a lot of names and roles to learn. We work hard to support the development of strong relationships between all members of the LEAPNOW community, before departure for India or Latin America.
  • Working in individual travel groups to generate agreements. By deciding how they want to speak and act with each other, students take ownership of their group culture and dynamic. This helps to ensure that individuals feel respected and listened to by their group members, creating a safe space for learning and growth.
  • Learning skills for conscious communication. When a group of people live and travel together for ten weeks, it is inevitable that disagreements, differing opinions, and uncomfortable situations will arise. We equip our students with communication tools to respectfully and consciously engage with these challenges.
  • Beginning to choose the Individual Internship. With the breadth of available possibilities, choosing an internship can be both exciting and daunting. We start the process as early as possible to ensure people find their dream internship.

Group Travel (Nine Weeks)

During the first semester of LEAPYEAR, eight to eleven students travel in groups with two experienced adult leaders. During the 2018 LEAPYEAR programs, students have the following choices:

Nepal and India

From the pristine trails and exquisite landscapes of the Himalayas to bustling Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world, the Indian subcontinent is a land infused with spiritual richness and cultural vibrancy. Available for the September and January program start dates. Read more.

Central America

Home to the lush volcanic highlands of Guatemala, the turquoise waters of Roatan, and the rich cultural heritage of Nicaragua's colonial gems. Travel in Central America evokes wonder and curiosity through language immersion, cultural exploration and environmental service. Available for the September program start date. 

The emphasis during Group Travel is to provide many diverse experiences:

  • language immersion
  • short-term internships like traditional dance, jewelry making, cooking, and more
  • service work including social activism, teaching at schools, building homes or schools for the underprivileged, and working in environmental conservation
  • trekking through some of the most beautiful landscapes this world has to offer
  • participating in yoga and meditation retreats
  • and so much more

During these months of group travel, students also gain the skills they will need to live, travel, and work independently during the individual internship in the second half of the year. They will arrange lodging and transportation, learn what it means to be a smart and safe traveler, practice negotiation and haggling, and learn how to adapt to a culture that is not their own.

Second Retreat (Nine Days)

Second retreat is designed to bridge the gap between an amazing travel experience and life back at home.   Much of our learning happens when we reflect on experiences that we've just had, so the first semester doesn't end at the airport. We take time to provide tools so students can harvest the valuable learning from their travels when they are back in Colorado.

The focus of Second Retreat is to:

  • Rest and recover from jet lag. Eating warm food, sleeping on a comfortable bed and reuniting with the larger group is all we do during the first day of Retreat #2!
  • Reconnect with the larger LEAPYEAR group. Group members naturally form close bonds with the others in their travel group, but for the rest of the journey the larger LEAPYEAR group works together as a whole. During second retreat we actively support our students in reconnecting with the members of the other travel cohorts.
  • Harvest the learning from ten weeks of travel & myriad diverse experiences. Second Retreat is designed to ensure that precious memories and moments are shared and digested so that they don�t get lost. This is accomplished through group presentations, contemplative writing, group storytelling, and more.
  • Complete academic work for the first semester. Assignments completed during Group Travel are turned in and learning experiences are reflected on through writing, discussion, creative projects, and presentations.
  • Finalize Individual Internship placements. Throughout Group Travel, students communicate with our Internship Coordinator to line up their dream internship. Second Retreat is the time to meet in person and get the internship details finalized.
  • Prepare to travel home. Returning home can be challenging after so many life-changing experiences. We make sure to provide our students with tools and strategies for talking about their travel and their plans for the future, resisting backsliding into old habits and routines, continuing their personal growth, and dealing with reverse culture shock.

Going Home (Four-Six Weeks)

Rather than simply being a break, traveling home after the first semester of LEAPYEAR is an integral and important part of the learning journey: we don''t think that life should ever be separate from learning!  Returning to someplace familiar after Group Travel and seeing it with new eyes is a tremendous learning opportunity, an opportunity to understand yourself and what has shaped who you are in a deeper way. 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 is also unique. At this point in the program, students begin to grapple with the challenges and opportunities of designing their own education.

Third Retreat (21 Days)

Third retreat is the heart of LEAPYEAR. It is designed to take students gently and steadily into deeper relationship with themselves. Intentional reflection on the transition to adulthood is the overarching theme of this powerful, surprise-filled retreat. During third retreat we:

  • Examine our thoughts about ourselves (the good and the bad).
  • Explore the personas & masks we have adopted to fit in, stand out, get by, and survive.
  • Learn about feelings - what they are, where they live in our bodies and most importantly, what to do with them.
  • Learn about the ways we sabotage ourselves and how to begin support ourselves instead.
  • Rediscover and practice using our reliable essential gifts.
  • Express creativity as a daily practice.
  • 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 primary goals of LEAPYEAR is to align your actions and awareness with the version of yourself you truly want to be. Our goal is to help you learn to live your life, not anyone else's ideas about what that should entail.

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 program, and particularly Third Retreat, is time set aside to learn how to be the best and most honest version of yourself that you can be. This isn't something to leave to chance!

Third Retreat is also a time that some students are able to lay down burdens that have been carried for too long such as old grief, incomplete relationships, parental divorce, or the loss of a sibling or loved one. Students have the opportunity to learn how freeing it can be to consciously let go of the incompletions of our past.

Rite of Passage

Third Retreat culminates in a three-day formal Rite of Passage into adulthood. Parents come to the Colorado retreat campus for 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 takes flight into a real experience of adulthood in the form of their Individual Internship.

For students, the presence of their parents coupled with the knowledge that three months of unique engagement in the world is just days away confers special relevance on the formal ceremony. For parents, the Rite of Passage is unusually real because they are sending their daughter or son for extended work and travel in some faraway place. The trust and validation implicit in this experience of letting go is very powerful for both students and parents.

Individual Internship (11 Weeks)

Take a moment and imagine what you might do, and where you might go if you could do anything you wanted, anywhere in the world. Ask yourself, ""If I could wave my magic wand, what would I most like to do?"

With our unparalleled database of over 6,700 internships, volunteer opportunities, work exchanges and apprenticeships in 126 different countries, LEAPYEAR can help make that dream a reality. We have been amassing this database through travel, networking and research since 1977.  It is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, and it continues to grow each year.

Each student is provided individual support by our experienced team to find their dream placement. Some of the questions that are used to guide the process are:

What learning environment would make you feel the most alive?

What's the most exciting and valuable thing you can conceive of doing for three month?

How can you learn to live in service to the world and fulfill your wildest dreams?

Individual Internships in LEAPYEAR allow you to:

  • Explore an interest in depth and get real-world experience in a field you are considering for a college major or career path.
  • Live and volunteer just about anywhere in the world.
  • Immerse yourself in a culture different from your own.
  • Have the opportunity to 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".
  • Learn from the experiences of your entire LEAPYEAR cohort- with regular communication in an online forum between LEAPYEAR students and staff, students learns how to give and receive peer support from across the globe.
  • Have the independent adventure of a lifetime!

The LEAPYEAR internship is designed to delve deeper into service and culture than the average traveler often does. If you are looking for a chance to wander, to pursue distraction and simple recreation, or to spend all your time touring around, LEAPYEAR may not be for you.

What we provide is a chance to further your development and evolution as a human being. The internship begins three days after the formal Rite of Passage during Third Retreat, building on the skills you've developed during LEAPYEAR. This allows you to truly step into adulthood in a real and profoundly meaningful way.

LEAPYEAR Internships are designed to put you in charge or your life and your education. We endeavor to provide you the tools to develop true motivation, the pieces of which are outlined by Daniel Pink in his book Drive:

  1. Autonomy. We empower you to direct your own life.
  2. Mastery. What you care about is important, and we support you in the continual pursuit of abilities that allow you to act in service to those passions.
  3. Purpose. Everyone has something unique to offer the world, and we support our students in nurturing their desire to serve a cause larger than themselves.

These elements are often sadly lacking in traditional schooling, but are integral to the LEAPYEAR individual internship.

Fourth Retreat (Nine Days)

By fourth retreat, students have had countless adventures, made lifelong friends around the globe, and developed a deeper relationship with themselves and the person they want to be. Fourth retreat is dedicated to the celebration of all of those successes, completion of curriculum, looking forward to what's next, and saying goodbye (for now!) to friends that have become family.

We take time to review and harvest the learning that occurred throughout the year. This happens through reflective writing, group storytelling, and presentations. We take the time to give attention to the experiences of the last nine months, because an important purpose of Fourth Retreat is to distill the information and experiences of the year into useful knowledge and wisdom that can guide your steps forward after LEAPYEAR.

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 about the importance of 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 celebrating our successes and grieving the ending of the experience.


LEAPYEAR is a year of intense and intimate experiences. Students become very close and our staff gets to know students very well. LEAPYEAR doesn't end when the program is over.

We encourage students to return to campus to visit, to remain connected to their group, to give back by working during 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 more supportive and productive college experience.

Additionally, there are things built in to the structure of LEAPYEAR that remain in place indefinitely designed to support continued personal growth:

Annual reunions: Each June, we hold a reunion for all LEAPYEAR graduates at the LEAPYEAR 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 take a few days to learn a bit more about yourself.

Google Groups: While doing Individual Internships and while scattered all over the planet, each cohort, along with the LEAPNOW staff, stay in touch by posting to an email group. This makes for a communal and connected experience of the internships. These groups remain active after the year is over, and they become a place of ongoing dialogue and connection for years to come.

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, Australia and New Zealand. Before choosing to complete college in Scotland, she was able to work with ceramicists, silk painters, wood carvers, jewelry-makers and other artists all over the world. 

Discover More at Leapnow.org