Gap year: off into the unknown

High-profile tragedies have made parents wary, but well-planned gap years are worth the risk, says Laura Jones

When I left Manchester for a year in Paris, my mum stood at the airport and cried. I don’t think she worried too much while I was gone – just the standard maternal anxiety. I did, however, have a horse riding accident, a (minor) car crash and on several occasions found myself followed by Parisian men. And the French capital is hardly the most exotic or dangerous of places.

Yet the recent high-profile deaths of young people abroad have placed gap year danger at the top of the agenda. Meredith Kercher was killed in Perugia, Italy last November, in disturbing and still unravelling circumstances. And Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Perez, both 23, were recently stabbed to death in London – all three were studying at foreign universities. April’s bus crash in Ecuador killed four gappers and their tour guide, while the deaths of British teenagers Scarlett Keeling in Goa and, more recently, Cara Marie Burke in Brazil have done little to ease fears.

Safety concerns

So should we be more worried about safety on gap years or sabbatical trips? Are students or youngsters themselves thinking twice before going away now? Or does sensational news sell, while gap years remain essential for an authentic world view?

Sarah Holmes, 23, recently spent a year in South America as part of her Hispanics and history degree, and is well aware of the risks we sometimes take abroad.

When she told her parents she’d done a bungee jump in Peru they were “far from pleased, especially as safety standards are much lower than at home”. Equally, when she cycled along the world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia, where a young man recently died and for which you need extra insurance in case your body has to be flown home, she was again aware of the possibility of a lethal drop to her death.

“It is awful when you hear about these tragedies,” she admits. “But you must remember that millions travel every year and these horror stories are so rare. In Rio, for example, you may get pick pocketed but it’s unlikely you’re going to die. And, after all, people get mugged on a daily basis in London or Barcelona.”

Holmes says you also have to remember that you stand out as a foreigner and therefore you could be an easy target, probably carrying cash or a camera. “But you simply have to be aware of this; the risks of a gap year don’t outweigh the benefits in my opinion.”

The cases that dominate the news do not supply strong enough reasons to avoid gap years or study abroad since they are a tiny minority; horrific for those involved and shocking to those who take an interest in international affairs, but far from a regular occurrence. It is important to embrace issues of cultural sensitivity and remain aware of your surroundings.

“Bear in mind, you may have to adjust your behaviour and dress or act differently. For instance ignoring a guy in England if he approached you would be exceptionally rude but in Argentina guys can get the wrong idea if you even speak to them,”says Holmes.

Chris Ash at Global Vision International (GVI) agrees that there are various cultural differences to note depending on the country. In India, midriff baring can be a problem (although not if you’re wearing a sari) and in some indigenous tribes, tattoos can symbolise violence. Thankfully, companies like gapyear.com and GVI offer all manner of health and safety advice from scorpions to snakes and diving disasters.

Tom Griffiths, founder of gapyear.com, advises you to get online or purchase a guide and get clued up. He is conscious of the parental desire to protect one’s offspring but assures us there is no reason to be overwhelmed or worried. “Nowadays there is a well-trodden backpacker route and close to two million 18-30 year-olds take it annually,” he says. “Statistics from 2001 indicated that it was safer to take a gap year than to go to university.”

Griffiths says it is important to make sure you have travel and medical insurance, and the correct jabs. But he is keen to emphasise how much of a positive difference a gap year can make to your life: “We are part of a global economy and we need to understand that and be part of it.”



Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvSpoiler alert: It has been talked about for months
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington
tv
Voices
Almost one in 10 of British soliders fall victim to serious psychiatric side-effects after being prescribed Lariam.
CHRISTMAS APPEALThis is how one charity is using that 'waste' to feed Britain's war heroes
Life and Style
Facebook has apologised after a new feature inviting users to review a collection of their 2014 highlights caused some to be confronted with pictures of their recently deceased family members and friends
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: 1st Line IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpd...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Audit Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Audit Graduate Opportunities ar...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?