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Helen Taylor is now a Sub lieutenant in the Royal Navy.  Here she recounts how her gap year experience enabled her to demonstrate that she had the skills that the Navy look for in their officers.

I graduated from Exeter University in 2008 and now I am a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, undergoing training as a warfare officer.  At my level this involves driving the ship and managing the safety of the crew during my watch, but with time I could be anything from an intelligence officer to the Captain of a ship, plenty of career opportunities!

On my trip with Africa & Asia Venture (AV) in January 2005, I taught in Kipketer Primary School in Kericho, Kenya. I spent 4 months teaching children aged 8 – 18 in English, Art, Home Economics, Physical Education, and I coached the school’s netball team.  Outside of working, I also travelled the country from Kisumu to Mombasa, climbed Mt Kenya & visited Tanzania & Zanzibar.  As well as the fact that the trip was one of the best experiences of my life & I learnt a lot about  myself that I would not have realised if I had gone straight to university, it was also a great experience to put on my CV.

My experience with AV was one of the talking points in my joining interview for the Royal Navy.  My time in Kenya showed that I was able to happily spend extended periods of time away from home, something that is essential in the Armed Forces.  Rather than being a tourist, I immersed myself in a totally different culture & language, which showed a willingness to adapt to new situations and to live outside my comfort zone.I lived in a mud hut with a tin roof & temperamental water & electricity supplies, and a “long drop” toilet, but found it great fun, which showed I could work in difficult scenarios and conditions.

 The fact that I had applied for AV before my Gap Year & had worked to save up for the trip showed my employer that I had good self-motivation and organisational skills, which are essential in any workplace.  My interviewers were especially interested how I managed to lead classes of 86 children (answer = with enthusiasm & promises of football/netball afterwards!) displaying leadership skills needed not only as an officer but also in any managerial position in the workplace.  Finally, climbing to an altitude of 4,985m (yes I remember it exactly!) up Mt Kenya, just because “it was there,” showed a self-motivation, resilience and determination that not everybody can put on their CV.

What the Royal Navy wanted to see from my experiences in Kenya is exactly what your future employer will see when you tell them about your time with AV.  I have friends who went straight from school to university, studied non-stop, got good degrees but failed at job interviews because they did not have any extracurricular experience, be it playing in the local football team or working for AV in a different continent, which stood them out from the crowd of other applicants.

 While I don’t think that anyone should apply for a Gap Year experience such as AV simply to put that extra tick in the box on their CV, it certainly helps in the job interviews when you need to demonstrate qualities that put you above other applicants, and those abilities and self-awareness you learnt with AV will help you when you reach your career.  It certainly gave me an advantage as an officer in the Royal Navy!

Helen Taylor’s gap year placement in Kenya was arranged with Africa & Asia Venture.