India has become a prime destination for gap-year students: a new breed of get-up-and-go youngsters in tune with the demands of the global economy. In a practice that caught on in the '90s, students poised between school and university in the West take a sabbatical to travel and/or work. Hundreds of them are here, from the US, Europe and Canada, even places like South Korea and Russia—all looking for between a few months to a year of experience in booming and socially diverse India. Their jobs range from internships in financial consultancies in Gurgaon, work on sanitation problems in Tamil Nadu's fishing hamlets, teaching sports in Rajasthan to helping out on elephant conservation farms in Kerala. The possibilities for social work, especially, are drawing big numbers from across the globe.
A rash of companies has come up in recent years to cater to gap-year needs. Gapguru, set up in 2004, has helped foreigners get jobs of all kinds in India. Exults CEO Arvind Malhotra: "India is a gap-year destination for high achievers. Students who have excelled at school and are heading to the top universities come to us." Most of the students are 18-year-olds travelling after finishing school, but there is also a rise in applications from mid-career 'gappers' who want to take a break from their jobs.