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.”



News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Spanish Teacher - experience of Alevel & GCSE essential

£22800 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

A Level & GCSEC Business Studies Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester is seeki...

Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are seeking a confident...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink