Gap year: volunteering advice

How do you get the most out of a gap year if your heart is set on volunteering? Anne Giacomantonio gets advice from an expert

Getting your exam results and deciding on your next move in education – and then your career – can be a daunting process. So, for many people, the idea of a little breather between leaving school and going into higher education is very appealing, but the choices surrounding a gap year can be almost as daunting! Do you spend your time travelling, getting in some work experience or doing some charitable volunteer work in a foreign country?



The popularity of the gap year has been increasing steadily in the 40 years or so since the phenomenon first appeared, while the gap year market in 2005 was valued at £5bn globally. This means there are hundreds of companies offering gap years – at a price.

Because there are so many companies out there, it can be hard to decide who to go with. Will your money be used for a good purpose? Is the presence of a particular company, in whatever country they happen to be in, seen as a help or a hindrance?

The gap year expert

Dr Kate Simpson came up against exactly that problem when she started investigating volunteering and gap years for her PhD. Having been to New Zealand, she decided that she would do her PhD on volunteering and set up a website, www.ethicalvolunteering.org, to help guide people who might be confused when making their decision. We caught up with her for a quick chat.

How did you organise your gap year?

I went to New Zealand and worked in a school out there for eight months. I was one of these people you don’t want to be like – quite disorganised! I didn’t think about it in advance at all. Shortly afterwards, I worked for a gap year organisation running volunteer programmes and experiences in Lima and Peru. I organised summer holiday activities for kids in a shanty town.

What did your research reveal?

Volunteering isn’t about simply travelling to the other side of the world and thinking that you will have the great opportunity to have fun and try something new. In the industry there is a huge focus on personal development, but there is very little on how the people you work with make sense of these experiences. What are young British people actually learning about the communities and cultures that they work in?

What should gappers be asking to test potential agencies?

There is far more supply then demand, it’s a real buyers’ market. People going on any gap year experience can afford to be really discerning. They should challenge the organisations for the information they want. Often, the problem is they don’t have the confidence, but you must remember that whatever the organisations are telling you, they want you more than you want them. Use your power of choice.

Do students have to carry out volunteer work to make their gap year worthwhile?

The gap year volunteering sector is very keen to encourage you to think that if you don’t do volunteering it’s not of use on your CV. However, if you are not really into the volunteering don’t do it, because you will only do a bad job.

What is the most crucial thing to look for?

It’s important that there is a partnership between a local organisation and a sending agency. If there isn’t a healthy partnership, you can be sent to a project that people locally don’t want or need. Look for an agency that can tell you about the local partner. It’s no good if they just tell you they work with a local school, for example – they need to say what the school is and where it is.

It all seems very confusing, how do you decide?

Really get to know your provider. Ask questions and know what answers they should be giving. There are so many really good people out there and only some not very good ones.

Be really clear about what the agency is asking you to do. If you are off to do something you’ve never done before, be really clear about how they are going to help you develop the skills, whether it’s construction or teaching. Use an agency that approaches it a bit more like a job – one that wants to meet you first, know a bit about you and your skills and what you can offer. Volunteer agencies that just ask you to sign and send a cheque are no good.

Whether it’s conservation work or running a children’s play project, young people should aim for stuff for which they have enthusiasm and some relevant skills. The simpler projects tend to be more rewarding.



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
people
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

IT Support Technician - URGENT - Graduate, Windows, MS Office

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: My client, a researcher of investment idea...

MQ Unix / Linux Systems Engineer - URGENT - Unix, Linux, MQ

£63000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A market leading provider of technology dr...

Trade Desk Specialist - FIX, Linux, UNIX, Windows,SQL, Graduate

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading global exchange is look...

Graduate Java / C++ Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Graduate Java / C++ ...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor