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David Bowker – gap year – BUNAC

Case study, Gap Year, Geographical & Environmental Sciences May 19, 2009

David Bowker - gap year - BUNAC

Age – 22
Degree and University – Loughborough University, Geography and Sport and Leisure Management
Work Experience: Summer camp USA and Work Australia

Reasons for doing work experience? I really wanted a break from my studies as I knew that if I went to university straight after college the same cycle of constant exams and work would continue. I had always wanted to travel and see the world and just do something completely different.

Reasons for choosing placement? I had always wanted to see Australia, mainly because of Neighbours to be honest! I knew I’d have to spend an extended period of time there in order to fit in everything I wanted to do and see. I did a lot of research and decided to go with BUNAC on their Work Australia programme. Going with an organisation is something I would highly recommend as BUNAC took care of all the administrative aspects, including my visa and flights. Most importantly BUNAC arranged a group flight via Hong Kong where I spent three days sightseeing. There were 30 people on the group flight and I ended up travelling with a few of them for the whole seven months.

I enjoyed working and travelling in Australia, and the greater understanding of local culture it gave me, so much so that I decided to work on an American summer camp in between my years at university. I couldn’t stand the thought of a mundane job in the UK and I didn’t want to waste three months doing nothing, so BUNAC’s Summer Camp USA seemed like a cost effective way of seeing the U.S, with nine weeks at camp and then the opportunity to spend my hard-earned money on four weeks of travel around the States.

Tasks carried out during work experience? In Australia I lived the dream for seven months, surfing, sky diving, bungee jumping, scuba-diving, visiting Ramsey Street and loads more. I also took on various jobs along the way to supplement what I had already saved up before leaving the UK. IEP, BUNAC’s sister organisation in Australia, helped me find jobs doing charity work, fruit picking, and even working as an extra on Australian TV!

At summer camp in America I worked as a general counsellor, which meant that I was directly responsible for 10 boys over a period of eight weeks. I also helped out with coaching football and waterskiing – something which I had done before camp started. Camp life was challenging but really enjoyable and diverse. I did everything from performing in talent shows, helping out with arts and crafts classes, and organising out-of-camp trips.

Impact on career progression? In the future I would really like to own my own chain of hostels all over the world. When I worked at camp I developed a number of transferable skills, such as communication, organisational and people skills that I can now use and will develop in the future.

Highlights? The biggest highlight in Australia were driving up the east coast in a camper van. It gave us a chance to explore this amazing country and the freedom to find our own paradise beaches that weren’t necessarily on the backpacker map. I also learned to scuba dive and had an amazing experience diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

At camp, the biggest highlights for me were our weekly campfires and talent shows where we’d have to make up skits and songs and dances with the campers and other counsellors. I also love the fact that as well as being the responsible adult, I was also allowed to act like a kid for a lot of the time. After camp we were invited to stay with a few of the American counsellors, so we went to New York City, Texas and Florida and were able to experience the ‘real’ America which was so much fun.

Downsides? It is never easy being away from home for an extended period of time, although it is something I got used to pretty quickly. I also found waking up early a bit of a downside – both fruit picking in Australia and getting the kids up and out of bed at camp; but again once I got into the routine it was no problem. The only other downside at camp was when the kids were better than me at an activity – I had to swallow my pride and ask them to teach me!

Personal Gains? I think travelling makes you a lot more independent, broad-minded and an expert at meeting new people! I came back home with loads of different stories to tell and now feel that I am a more rounded and interesting person than before I worked abroad. I also met some amazing people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and have a great international network of friends who I know I’ll be visiting in years to come. Travelling also gave me the opportunity to try out things I would never have done before, and the transferable skills that I developed will be invaluable on my CV.

Qualities needed for work experience? In my opinion, to get the most out of working abroad you have to be open-minded and have a willingness to try new things. You have to enjoy meeting new people and be able to adjust pretty quickly to different places, cultures and routines as you travel around.

Advice for people wanting to do work experience? Go with a company you trust which has a solid reputation with proven experience. I went with BUNAC on both trips and I’d highly recommend them to anyone wanting to work abroad.
Do as much research as possible but try not to plan too much. Obviously you want to see as much as possible but you don’t want to turn your travels into a military operation. Lastly travel guides and books are really handy but often simply asking someone who’s already been to a place is a better option. Some of my best experiences were a direct result of recommendations picked up along the way.

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