Eight years ago, Hope Dlugozima hit a wall. At age 33, the media professional was pinned between a comfortable job and an unrelenting itch for … well, something more … more challenging, more adventurous, more fulfilling.
“When I graduated from college, I started working right away. And, like many people, I was good at what I first chose to pursue,” she says. “I woke up 13 years later and asked myself, ‘Wait, does this mean the doors to alternative opportunities are closed forever?’ I couldn’t accept that. I didn’t want to put aside my dreams and personal goals to stay on a path that I fell on to at a very early age.”
So Dlugozima negotiated a sabbatical that allowed her to work as an “unpaid apprentice” for the Fox Network and Time-Warner, where she learned broadcast skills that bolstered her résumé. Then she worked with the Center for Interim Programs to plan an 18-month sabbatical in Prague, where she satisfied her thirst for adventure and personal growth by becoming a features editor for the Prague Post, an English-language newspaper in the Czech Republic.
Dlugozima returned to the United States with the tools she needed to launch a new career and to coauthor a book titled Six Months Off: How to Plan, Negotiate, and Take the Break You Need Without Burning Bridges or Going Broke (Henry Holt, 1996). Today, she is the creative director for WebMD and a career-shift coach for iVillage.com, as well as a mother and fervent sabbatical proponent.
In the spirit of reinvention and reawakenings of the sort Dlugozima experienced, Fast Company has assembled the following list of provocative and diverse sabbaticals — 10 ways to spend the downturn building up your personal portfolio. Tune in, turn on, drop out.
Why it’s cool: Explore the famed Incan city of Machu Picchu, and journey through mountain passes and over raging rivers on a 17-day tour of Peru. Your destination: the mysterious settlement of Choquequirao, a major archaeological site that still hides historical and sociological secrets from the world.
How to spin it: Trekking ancient roads and perusing centuries-old dwellings offer important lessons in enduring value — the Incas clearly recognized the worth of institutions that are built to last!
Why it’s cool: The Rockefeller Foundation hosts monthlong retreats for voracious students of all varieties at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center, located on Lake Como in northern Italy. Collaborate with colleagues from around the world, attend provocative workshops, or contribute to a team project revolving around such topics as global inclusion or creativity and culture. Use the center’s creative-energy vibes to incubate the novel, thesis, or Broadway musical that you’ve been meaning to develop.
How to spin it: Interacting with people from widely varied disciplines, backgrounds, and locales at the Bellagio Center provides lessons in the power of collaboration and diversity, essential skills in the emerging global economy. The center’s resident program requires participants to produce some sort of creative work during their stay, so you’ll leave with concrete results to show prospective employers — and valuable experience completing a major project on a tight time frame.
Why it’s cool: Learn to sculpt and paint with indigenous Honduran materials, or help artists in poor Central American communities build a business using the resources at hand. In three months, you’ll learn Spanish, lead workshops, and create original works of art — creative therapy at its best.
How to spin it: By developing your creative side and hatching strategies for stretching available resources and minimal funds, you’ll acquire skills that will make penny-pinching tech firms drool.
Why it’s cool: Dive among reefs located off the Fiji Islands, and photograph tropical fish as they swim past your scuba mask. Spend 15 days frolicking with whales and dolphins, or just relax on the deck of the sailing yacht Nai’a as you soak up the South Pacific sunlight and indulge in introspection.
How to spin it: Practicing photography will hone your appreciation of design, and scuba diving will confirm your risk-taker status. Plus, you can study teamwork by watching the seamless cooperation of the marine-mammal pods as they swim alongside your ship.
Why it’s cool: Live as part of the Hopi community in Arizona’s Painted Desert while working to construct a youth center for the reservation’s underserved children. During a one-week stay, the villagers of Shungopavi will introduce you to such traditional trades as basket weaving, desert farming, and jewelry design.
How to spin it: Layoff victims can take inspiration from the Hopi people’s resilience in the face of adversity. Participating in the tribe’s spirit of cooperation and innovation will enhance your team-building skills and your ability to rebound from setbacks.
Why it’s cool: Embark on a 34-day spiritual journey through Tibetan mountain ranges, witness a Hindu full-moon festival, and take time for meditation and self-reflection at high-altitude sacred sites.
How to spin it: Sometimes perspective is the best antidote to overanalysis and overreaction. An employee who can separate the truly significant from the truly mundane will help any company as it faces the turbulent times ahead.
Why it’s cool: Let the waves rolling off Costa Rica’s shoreline wash away your woes. On this monthlong excursion, expert guides help novices and veterans alike stay on top of some of the world’s best ocean swells.
How to spin it: New surfers demonstrate the ability and willingness to learn on the job and to persist despite wipeouts. Experts show their readiness to meet new challenges and build upon their existing skill set — even while swimming among sharks!
Why it’s cool: Ghana’s rain forests and savannas provide exhilarating forums for imparting and collecting business wisdom. For up to six months, help local entrepreneurs achieve financial success by leading seminars on such basics as record keeping and product marketing.
How to spin it: If your dotcom lost track of reality during the Internet boom, a refresher course on the rules of business will help get your feet back on the ground — and in the door at a globally minded company that can use your hands-on experience at teaching strategies for success.
Why it’s cool: Stay in an 18th-century château in the French countryside while learning the native tongue and preparing culinary delights. Language classes last for up to four weeks, and French cuisine courses require just one additional week. Family and significant others are welcome to join in the cultural immersion.
How to spin it: Your classroom is the world. Rather than sitting behind a desk with a pencil and paper, you prefer to jump right in and experiment. Take this daring attitude with you to job interviews — along with homemade crepes or quiche — and you’re sure to feed any employer’s hunger for innovation.
Why it’s cool: In the tropical climate of southern China, novice volunteer teams will help Dr. Zhaoyuan Li save two of the rarest monkey species in the world. Track the monkeys’ behavior, analyze their habitat, and draft a management plan to ensure their survival on this two-week environmental expedition.
How to spin it: This animal-conservation mission will teach you how to focus on the details as you monitor behavior, examine environments, and forecast changing conditions. In short, it will sharpen your ability to observe and understand unfamiliar communities — and to recognize monkey business in the workplace.
Anni Layne (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Fast Company senior Web editor. Christine Engelken, a former Fast Company intern, is a student at Northwestern University.