Dr. Dennis Sinar remembers when it dawned on him: He was ready for a break from work.
A gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Dr. Sinar was working on a research paper in the university library when it happened. "I just said to myself, 'I'm really sick of doing this stuff,'" he said. This was 10 years ago, when he was 59.
Dr. Sinar explored the possibility of a sabbatical, but the university would have required him to do something related to his work during the break — which was just what he didn't want to do. Then he ran across a newspaper article on companies that arrange gap-year adventures, though most of them catered to high school and college students.
"They didn't talk about anything for mature people," he recalled. "But I just picked up the phone and called one of them."
In short order, Dr. Sinar found himself with a summer apprenticeship to an expert on stonemasonry in Alaska. "My wife and I were renovating and selling houses at the time," he said, "and I thought I might learn some things that would help me with those projects." In exchange for room and board, he studied how to create stone facings for houses; the work entailed learning how to collect appropriate rocks and then fit them into the available spaces. "It was like a big jigsaw puzzle," he said.