Gap year: How to make your year out count

Whether you want to teach English abroad or build wells, it's essential to plan ahead, says Miriam Laurance

Whatever stage you're at, taking a year off to do something different can be one of the best times of your life. But it's all too easy to let that year slip by. The key to getting the most out of your time is planning, and now's the time to start.

With up to 15 months of freedom ahead of you, and hundreds of options, it can be difficult to know where to begin. I spent an hour on Google, got bored and picked the first scheme I found in a faraway country.

I might have chosen more sensibly if I had followed the experts' advice, and started by thinking: what do I want to get out of my year? It could be anything from having an adventure to making money and building up your CV. If it's the latter, the Year in Industry scheme gives students a chance to work for a year in a job in science, IT, engineering and business.

You could learn a new skill – scuba diving for a conservation charity in Madagascar, or studying a language abroad. There is a plethora of organisations offering all sorts of experiences. Signing up with one of these gives you the advantage of their advice, contacts and training, as well as support in an emergency.

A popular option is to volunteer abroad. If this appeals, think first about what you have to offer. As a 17-year-old, you may think "not very much". But Lavinia Maclean-Bristol, manager of Project Trust, says most school-leavers from the UK have two advantages: English as their first language, and a good education, which makes them in great demand as language teachers.

Project Trust specialises in 12-month placements around the world, which Maclean-Bristol says, allow volunteers to get the full benefit of the year abroad. "They have time to settle in, relax and enjoy making a real difference," she says.

If that sounds too much, companies such as Projects Abroad offer placements in everything from archaeology to law, for one month or more, and Raleigh International offers expeditions involving three-week projects based around the community, the environment, and adventure. That might include providing villages with wells or building a shelter in a national park. But how do you choose?

A good place to start is a new website set up by the Year Out Group, which has 37 member organisations, all of which are obliged to obey its code of practice. (Check out the guidelines on the VSO website.)

Things to look for include what training they provide, and what they are doing for the community. A few are charities, so you'll have a better idea of where your money is going. These include Project Trust and Raleigh International. Rachel Colinson at Raleigh, says: "Because we only run projects in three countries, we have a permanent presence in those areas, so we can invest in infrastructure and employ local staff."

Another charity, one of the oldest and most experienced, is GAP Activity Projects. If budget is a concern, GAP has a bursary scheme. Many organisations will give fundraising advice. Check whether costs include flights, living costs, and insurance. Few will include visas or inoculations.

There is an alternative to going abroad. Jason Tanner of CSV (Community Service Volunteers) says there are important projects in the UK, too. This might be working with children with learning disabilities, or living with an elderly person who needs help. You'll receive training, support and live away from home, plus you'll get a living allowance.

Small things can affect your whole experience. One of the best things about my gap year in Ghana was living with a family: a great way to learn about another culture. Whatever you're looking for, there's bound to be an option for you, if you take the time to find it.



www.yearoutgroup.org; www.projecttrust.org.uk; www.teaching-abroad.co.uk; www.raleighinternational.org; www.csv.org.uk; www.vso.org.uk; www.gap.org.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Developer - Norfolk - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Software Developer - Norf...

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine