Natalie is in the final year of a Spanish and creative writing degree at Roehampton University. In 2003, she applied to go to Ecuador through GAP Activity Projects.
GAP arranged the accommodation as well as a work placement. She was placed in a city four hours from the capital Quito.
What was your motivation in applying?
Someone came to my school promoting gap years. I had always wanted to travel and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I wanted a cultural experience, as well as a chance to learn a language. Living in a third-world country makes it much more of an experience. You are constantly tested by difficult situations.
What did the application process involve?
We had to fill in an application form with a personal statement, saying why we wanted to go and what our motivation was. Then there was an interview with two people, for a general chat, talking about hobbies, and why you think you would be good at teaching or caring for children.
What did you do?
Mainly teaching, and I did the odd bit of caring. I taught at a primary school in a rural village and also a secondary school. In the late afternoons I taught mature students. I worked in the primary school in the mornings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
I was left to teach my own class and make lesson plans. I had an hour break for lunch, then taught the late afternoon class. On the other days, I taught at the secondary school and would be assisting instead of teaching.
How did you sell the experience on your CV?
You learn how to adapt as soon as you get off the plane. You learn how to speak to certain age groups, and to change your teaching for age groups. I also gained cultural awareness and it builds confidence.
Did you enjoy it?
It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It helped me concentrate at university and led me to change my degree.
What did you learn?
It’s such a cliche to say that you’ve grown as a person, but you do. Although there is a language barrier, it’s not much of a barrier once you’re there. I became more independent and it changed the way I think about other people.
My favourite time was working in the primary school; there was never a dull moment. I also enjoyed spending time with my host family; they taught me some Ecuadorian recipes.
The travelling on buses! Also, occasionally you’ll miss home, which can be hard.
What advice to readers do you have?
Just do it! It’s the best thing you could possibly do. It teaches you to be independent and it opens your eyes. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It’s an ideal thing to do after university.