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
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes