David Bell, 22, graduated from Newcastle University in 2005 with a degree in zoology. He is now working for Aardvark McLeod, which offers tailor-made fly-fishing holidays. He plans to build on his experiences to develop a career in conservation.
Gap Year Experience:
David spent two weeks as one of the first volunteers at the Alladale Estate in Scotland. It is owned by Paul Lister, who hopes to bring back wolves, lynx, bears and wild boar by creating a safari-style game reserve. David took part in a range of conservation activities including helping to collect and collate data about the local fauna and wildlife. The project is run through Worldwide Experience. He then went on to spend a month in Nairobi on a training course for safari guides run by an organisation called Ecotraining.
What was your motivation?
I’d taken a gap year before uni and worked on safari in Zambia with Gap Activity. The experience inspired me to change my degree from Mechanical Engineering to Zoology. When I saw an article on what Paul Lister was doing I wrote to see if there was a position available for a volunteer.
What skills did you learn?
In Scotland it was great to be able to relate what I’d learnt at university to real life. I saw how you would go about starting to develop a game reserve. On the training course in Africa the training ranged from tracking to approaching dangerous game on foot.
Scotland was a real wilderness experience and the surroundings were amazing, as was the accommodation, which was set in a wooden lodge. Through both the projects I got a good understanding about how a game reserve works, which is vital if I want to pursue a conservation career.
The rain in Scotland! Sometimes we had to cancel outside activities such as collecting data.
Did it improve your employability?
Yes. If you want to go into conservation you are more likely to be taken seriously if you’ve done volunteer work, than if you just have a degree in it. Both the experiences look good on my CV. It also helps you find out what you’d like to do. A number of people on the safari course were considering doing it as a career and had realised it wasn’t quite what they’d expected.
Advice to students considering a gap year?
Try to keep busy. Use your time: don’t just sit around. Get experience in anything that you want to do now – it’s harder when you have a career.