Gap Year Safety: One Student’s Experience
Taking a gap year or shorter break should be the experience of a lifetime, giving you amazing experiences and memories to cherish forever. However, in the excitement of travelling to new countries and meeting new people, don’t lose track of safety measures that could ensure both your property and (more importantly) you return in one piece.
19-year-old Izzy Rose is currently on a short break in Bangladesh with two girlfriends before taking a History of Art degree at Manchester University. However, her experience thus far is as relevant to those taking a break post graduation as before. Izzy has been planning a gap year since she was 11 because she loves travelling, especially to unusual places with different cultures. She wanted to visit a developing country because she believes it will make her a much more rounded human being and prepare her for anything in life. She explains: ‘My two friends and I have always wanted to go to India, however the opportunity to go to Bangladesh arose as my mum was having dinner with a patron of a school there. As Bangladesh is just next door to India, and a country none of us had been to, we rang him and asked if we could voluntarily teach there before going to India.’
Even at this early stage in their preparations they were well aware of safety concerns and precautions. ‘My parents kept warning me of how dangerous it was,’ she recalls. ‘When you type ‘flights to Bangladesh’ into Google, the first page is full of crashed planes! The Foreign Office website warned us against going to some places, such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and also to beware of forced marriages! As three 19-year- olds we weren’t going to let any amount of danger prevent us from going, but we agreed to stay away from the Chittagong Hill Tracts!’ Knowing someone connected with the school definitely helped from a safety point of view as Izzy and her friends had a brief email correspondence with its founder and managed to arrange all their accommodation and food at the Bangladesh Female Academy (BFA), in a small village called Derai, in the Sunamgonj district of the Sylhet division.
It’s a charity-funded school for poor and orphaned girls aged between eight and 14. ‘For the first week of our trip we spent a lot of time meeting with important people in the country (such as the Cabinet Secretary!) to promote the school as westerners here are very rare,’ she says. ‘But, even in the school, we don’t just teach. We are living as Bangladeshi teachers and spend our time playing with the girls, eating sugarcane, and learning about the Bangladeshi way of life. We have been to weddings and conferences and family homes. We have also learnt how to cope with frequent power cuts, water shortages and uncomfortably cold showers, and even extreme changes in the weather!’ In fact, the one thing they haven’t had to deal with is anything hazardous. ‘Since we’ve been here we haven’t noticed anything remotely dangerous and we find the people to be extremely hospitable.
As an "honour" for volunteers in the country we have been given 24-hour police escorts. We’re not sure if this is so much a traditional custom or something that the man in charge of the school arranged for us through his many influential contacts. We’re not allowed to go anywhere without our "guardian" and even the girls try to protect us from going anywhere near the river or the roof, even though going there is part of their daily lives. Izzy admits that the safety precautions have been extremely stringent and at times they have felt like prisoners in the school, but this hasn’t stopped her from falling in love with the country. ‘There’s a lot more to Bangladesh than you can find in the tour guide and seeing the country from an insider’s point of view has made it a lot more fascinating.’