I had an unexpected gap year in Uganda. It wasn’t planned and in fact I was almost dead set against the idea. I was keen to get stuck into university life. Unfortunately though, I was six marks short of the grades I needed to take up my offer of medicine at Cardiff University. Finding no courses I liked in the UCAS clearing, I decided to take a year out.
My main aim for my gap year was to re-sit a couple of exams as well as do something productive and exciting. Something that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do. Since my gap year was so last minute I didn’t have anyone to travel with as all my friends had gone straight to university. I decided that I wanted to use my gap year to do something productive. Everyone I had spoken to about gap years said that volunteering was the most rewarding part of their experience. I started hunting for a gap year company that allowed me to volunteer, travel and go with a group of people my age. So started my unexpected gap year in Uganda.
A revisit to the African continent
I had been to Africa previously and was dying to return so I decided to go to Uganda. That’s where Africa & Asia Venture (AV) came in. The project also fitted perfectly with exam resit times. It allowed me the time I needed to work before hand to save up to go.
I was looking for several things from a volunteer project but mainly people that I would be able to travel with my age. I was also looking for a trip that combined travelling with volunteering. But most importantly I wanted something which looked fun and an adventure. After all your gap year is meant to be the experience of a life time.
Raising the funds
My main concern was not being able to raise enough money in such a short space of time. However I worked for the first six months at my local council. I used some of my savings and also wrote to the council about grants and bursaries. These were focused on youth and volunteering. This way I managed to raise about £1500 in grants alone.
A true adventure
Looking back on it now I think my gap year was a real adventure. I was able to do and see so many exciting things that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. Abseiling down a waterfall, climbing Kilimanjaro, riding a camel, kayaking and white water rafting on the Nile. Swimming with turtles, snorkelling in Zanzibar and much more. I enjoyed the challenge of community work, and the challenge of being thrown in the deep end in difficult situations. It taught me to how to look after myself; organising travel plans, washing budgeting as well as making great friends. I also realised how there is so much more to life than going to university and getting a job. There’s just so much to do and see!
How to make it count
I think the experience of Africa gives me a good standing in interviews and my helped CV stand out. It is an exciting thing to be able to talk about something that very few other will have done. It shows that I am able to cope with difficult and new situations and is an experience that really jumps off the page. I like to think of it as a more unconventional form of work experience.
My advice for school leavers thinking about a gap year? Go for it! University can wait. Taking a gap year even an unexpected gap year is an exciting opportunity that should be seized with both hands.