These days the world really is your oyster if you want to take a gap year abroad. Now you can volunteer to work at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, teach English to South American children, or train to be a newspaper reporter in India. Whatever you choose to do the key is to embrace the whole experience, keep a diary, and make sure you add it to your CV.
Doing a gap year has always been seen as an opportunity to gain some real life experiences before starting your career, and these days the choices of what you can do and where to go are truly mind-boggling. Today’s graduates are no longer content to sit in an office taking messages and answering the phones while on their year out, they would rather be doing something they consider really worthwhile instead. That’s why so many choose projects abroad where they can actually give something back to the country they are visiting, while having the experience of a lifetime.
According to Year Out Group, the association of leading UK-registered year out organisations, volunteering has now become the number one option with the most popular projects being teaching, general care, conservation projects, and community projects.
But how can you tell if the scheme you sign up to is really going to help the people or the environment of the country you visit? The answer, says Richard Oliver, chief executive of the Year Out Group, is to go with a reputable company and to really do your research. ‘There are organisations out there that don’t meet the standards we expect,’ he says, ‘but it is not difficult to find them out with careful research and by asking the right questions.’
Things to ask include:
Who benefits from the programe?
What is the ethos of the organisation?
Does the organisation offer health and safety assistance?
What will I pay for?
Is there any pre-departure training?
Will there be someone in the country to contact?
Will I be debriefed when I get back home?
Rayliegh International has been offering safe, structured projects in off-the-beaten-track destinations since 1984. Stacey Adams, Raleigh’s Chief Executive, says: ‘We take young people to places so remote that their mobile phones don’t work – it helps build their independence and prepares families for the next stage of life when the children will leave the nest. It gives both sides (parents and their offspring) the confidence to know that they can manage their lives apart. Our expeditions aim to discover the spirit of adventure that is in all young people.’
If you are considering taking a year out to broaden your horizons abroad then it pays to plan well in advance. Make sure you travel with a reputable company and that people know where your itinerary is. Check out the resources section later in this issue for all the best gap year websites around, and remember : travel safely and have the time of your life.
Read our great case studies with graduates who have travelled all over the globe on the their gap year.
GAP YEAR IN NUMBERS
Each year, 200,000 young British people go on a gap year adventure, spending an average of £4,800 (Source: Mintel)
In 2005, the global gap year travel market was worth £5 billion. This is set to grow to £20 billion by 2010 (Source: Mintel)
TOP FIVE GAP YEAR DESTINATIONS
5/ South Africa (Source: Year Out Group)
TOP FIVE TRAVEL GADGETS
Head torch – 46.2 per cent
Digital camera – 23.3 per cent
MP3 player – 22.9 per cent
Solar charger – 4.3 per cent
GPS – 2.4 per cent
TOP FIVE BITS OF TRAVEL KIT
Swiss army knife – 28.7 per cent
Wet wipes – 26.5 per cent
Mosquito spray – 24.7 per cent
Gaffer tape – 10.4 per cent
Travel pillow – 4.9 per cent
TOP FIVE MUSIC ARTISTS TO TRAVEL WITH
Jack Johnson – 6.4 per cent
Red Hot Chili Peppers – 4.3 per cent
U2 – 4.2 per cent
Coldplay – 3.5 per cent
Bob Marley – 3 per cent (Source: Rayleigh International)