If there was any doubt about the arrival of this post-pandemic “new normal”, then the beginning of June festivities cleared it. The Jubilee long weekend came as a breath of fresh air to people wanting to feel normal again. Meeting friends (and strangers) face to face, and enjoying the chaos and cacophony felt, well, normal.
First hand experience
Gap years are also in a state of new normal. The last few years took away that valuable opportunity from students who were forced to stay at home. Now, many destinations are able to welcome back travellers although travel itself is not quite as smooth a process as it once was. On the plus side, there are more opportunities in the UK to find work that will help fund those itching to experience life and do something purposeful in a another country.
Social media is full of images and stories of young people enjoying breathtaking scenery and many of us have indulged our wanderlust through a phone. However now is the time to experience it first hand. We know young people in particular also want meaningful activities that make some sort of difference. Here are some of opportunities available.
Whether you choose to take up a job to save or you decide to get some real world experience to support your education, work is pretty much on every gap year agenda. Ideally everyone would like to find a relevant job that pays but often the options may only tick one of those boxes.
Internships, which are mostly unpaid, can be a great way to get experience in a job that closely matches your interests. The duration can vary from a few weeks to a few months. International internships covering fields like journalism, medicine, legal work, business administration and broadcasting are relatively common. However, you will normally have to pay a fee to access them. Cost free internship may be available in your home country and there will be a competitive application and interview process. Overseas placements are usually managed by matching the skills and needs of the applicant with businesses who need additional help at low cost. In return they can offer training and supervision to the applicant. For those looking to spend time in another country and access work experience in relatively straightforward way it can be a great option.
Paid work overseas will be of a similar nature to paid work in you home country. Expect to find opportunities in the hospitality sector, in agriculture and in some industries where casual work is the norm. You would need working visas for the latter but some casual work may be permitted on a student visa with conditions applied. If you have a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) qualification, then paid work is available and you would apply on line through a specialist agency. Some fees may be involved but if you can commit to a contract and making more than pocket money is your goal, it’s worth considering.
Backpacking is still a popular option but many students today have a heightened sense of responsibility and desire to dig a bit deeper into foreign cultures. Spending more time in the company of local people, eating and shopping in the same places and perhaps helping out with community or environmental projects can be much more fulfilling and memorable.
Travellers can go it alone and organize these things for themselves and whilst there are pitfalls to be wary of, it can be very satisfying to know you have managed this independently. However, most people looking for an experience through which to give something back and to build up skills and confidence, opt for an organized experiential trip. These can last weeks or months and people can choose to be on placements as individuals, in small groups or as part of a bigger cohort of fellow travellers.
Volunteering is a simple act of kindness, an experience so humbling it is bound to change ones outlook towards life. It isn’t just about helping people and causes one cares about but also an experience that will transform you as a person from within.
Nearly all students, by the time they are ready to move on to university, would have volunteered in some way or another, and some more than others. There are innumerable local charities and causes that require continuous support both in the UK and overseas. A gap year allows time to make a contribution over a period of time and to see the impact a volunteering effort can make
Aside from the skills and experience gained and a deep sense of purpose, many students choose to take on international volunteering opportunities. It is, after all, a gateway to spending more time travelling independently in a country. Gap year providers have host of options globally for students to choose from. It does require research and planning before committing to any one project though. The choice of destination’s and types of activities are varied. One could spend time teaching English to children in underdeveloped countries or choose to work on conservation of endangered species. Some work can be quite physical and demanding but there is also opportunity to hone research skills or to support communities in other ways they feel would be useful.
Students who are not ready to go to university but who want to keep abreast of their studies can take up short courses, online or at their local colleges. This may give them UCAS credits for when they are ready for university and also means they can still find work or volunteer as well.
Some gap year providers have partnered with education providers and now offer Diploma courses alongside their international volunteering programs. This is a great solution for students who want international work or volunteer experiences and make it count formally towards their studies.
Learn a new skill
Learning is one thing that does not stop with age. It is a continuous process. Young people can use their time to gain language skills, learn first aid, to cook, or to dance, be a qualified barista or bar tender, become a life guard or be TEFL qualified. Some of these will be useful if looking to work overseas but they are all good life skills regardless. Of course there are also things to learn by being on a volunteer programme or an expedition. Planning and scheduling, health and safety, research, managing others, diving, climbing, camp cooking, survival techniques, languages and many more.
There are a host of things that students could do during their gap year so researching your option is really important. A gap year is an investment of your time and money so speak to your career advisor, attend career fairs and talk to alumni who took a gap year.
The ‘real world’ experience students get by taking the opportunities presented on a gap year will shape their futures and in 2022 and 2023, perhaps more so than ever before.