Make the most of your gap year

First published in Education

You may already have your career planned out, or perhaps you are still undecided about which job, or even university course you should pursue.

Either way, a gap year could be just what you need: it can give you a refreshing break from your studies, provide you with time and inspiration to choose a career path, and add some impressive content to your CV.

There are many options available, whether you want to see the world, give up your time for a good cause, or just earn some money.


Go travelling
Travel continues to be a popular choice for those on a gap year, and one option is to buy a round-the-world air ticket, giving you the opportunity to make several stops en route. So you could watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu, learn to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, trek through the jungles of northern Thailand or go on safari in Africa.

Alternatively, you could travel by train through Europe, while some companies even run six-month overland adventures across entire continents.

Wherever you go, do your homework. Although plans can change, work out an itinerary and budget, learn about local customs and seek advice on personal safety.


Learn a language
Learning a language will make working and travelling overseas easier and more interesting, as it will allow you to communicate with local people, and better understand their culture. An overseas residential course allows you to become immersed in the language, perhaps through staying with a local family.

Choose a reputable school through a recommendation, and find out whether it is a member of an organisation. For example, in Quito, Ecuador, one of the most popular destinations for learning Spanish in Latin America, there are a number of schools that are members of AECEE (Asociación Ecuatoriana de Centros de Enseñanza del Español), and therefore have accreditation from the country’s education ministry, and must follow certain requirements and responsibilities.


Work overseas
From fruit picking or bar work to office jobs, working overseas can give you new skills and confidence, and and can help you extend your stay when your finances wouldn’t otherwise allow it.

If you want to be more adventurous, try working somewhere English is not spoken, and learn the local language before you start.

There are many job agencies that specialise in working overseas, while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk) has country-specific advice for travellers.


Volunteer
Whether working in an orphanage, teaching English, or helping to build a well, volunteering offers you the chance to do something worthwhile, learn transferable skills, meet new people and gain confidence. However, you don’t have to travel overseas. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in the UK, for example conservation work with the National Trust, or working in a youth hostel with the YHA.


Get a job at home
Perhaps you are daunted by the cost of going to university and don’t want to be saddled with debt once you’ve graduated. Working during your gap year will give you the chance to save some money.

Alternatively, you might want to spend six months working to save up to go travelling. Also, if you are already studying for a degree, you might be able to spend a year in industry, which will build on what you have learnt on your course. If you show enthusiasm and ability, you may be fortunate enough to be invited back by that company once you’ve graduated.

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