Name: Louise Roberts
Degree & university: BA in Philosophy, University of Reading
Gap year: I undertook a 2 month voluntary expedition with Trekforce Worldwide in the Belizean rainforest, and then completed a PADI open water diving course, before travelling around parts of Mexico and Guatemala independently.
What was your motivation in taking a gap year?
After finishing university I went straight into working life and, after almost a year of working full time, I realised I wanted to see more of the world. However, it was also important to me to travel with a purpose, and not just go on one long backpacking holiday around the world, which is why I chose to go away with an organisation that
coordinates voluntary expeditions.
How did you fund your gap year?
A combination of wages from my full time job at my local council and various fundraising efforts. People donated huge amounts of unwanted items that I sold on eBay or at car boot sales each Sunday. I also hosted a ‘bring and buy sale’ for my family and friends, and organised a sponsored head shave (which my boyfriend took part in, not me!) In addition to this I wrote to many Grant Making Trusts and local companies and received donations and sponsorship from several of these too.
To what extent has your gap year helped your career?
I feel that my volunteering experiences have given me the courage and determination to focus on my ambition of becoming a Primary School Teacher. I have applied for a PGCE, which will hopefully begin in 2008, and I feel that without my gap year experience I would not have had the courage to focus on this dream.
What did you enjoy most about your year out?
My favourite moment came during the voluntary project I undertook with Trekforce. A small group of us were given the challenge of completing exploratory transects of an uncharted area of rainforest near Davis Falls waterfall in Belize. We discovered three new waterfalls whilst on this transect that few, if any, people had ever seen before. We had the opportunity to swim in these waterfalls and it was amazing. Other highlights included a four day trek along the Indian Creek river in Belize, which ended with a day spent exploring Caesar Weezer cave (which was due to be closed for public access very soon afterwards).
Were there any downsides/ bad experiences?
There were no downsides at all to my experience. The biting insects in the rainforest are a bit irritating but you can’t really change that! And you get used to them after a while.
What do you think are the most important skills/strengths you need to make a success of a gap year?
I think organization was the key to my time abroad. While I only spent three months away I managed to fit more into this than I believe the average traveller would into a backpacking trip of the same length. I spent eight days completing a jungle training programme, followed by five weeks with Trekforce, and then a week’s PADI diving course followed by some independent travel. I don’t feel that I could have fit all this in without a lot of forethought and planning.
What would be your best piece of advice for students considering a gap year?
Consider carefully what your priorities are. I felt it was important to do something useful with my time, and not simply backpack around the world. There are many different voluntary projects you can get involved in, to suit many different people. My advice would be to not rule anything like this out as you can experience remote parts of the world whilst helping the local community and environment.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Trekforce are an amazing organisation and I would definitely recommend them to anybody interested in challenging travel with a purpose. www.trekforceworldwide.com