T raditionally, a gap year meant a one-year hiatus from academic studies to allow for nonacademic activities. To find out more about this phenomenon, we sat down with Rory Hall, Director for Asia of Camps International, which offers gap year volunteering trips and school expeditions in various locations all over Asia, Africa and South America.
“While parents may worry that a year out may set their child [now a young adult] back, the benefits may go a long way. Outcomes of young people travelling on such an experience are an increase in their self confidence and an understanding a little more about who they are and where they fit in the world,” Hall shares. These are qualities that will take students into their adult professional lives.
“I often tell young people that as an employer I see lots of CVs with lots of great qualifications,” Hall explains. “But when that person sits down in front of you for an interview they have nothing to say for themselves. They have done little with their lives other than study. I want to see someone who can look me in the eye with confidence and give me their opinion on something or tell me their story of how they committed to a cause and put others before themselves.”
When is the best time for students to take a gap year, and why?
"There is no right or wrong time; it all varies according to circumstances. The biggest myths are that it has to be a year, and that you have to be a student.
"For most people, taking a whole year away is a big commitment in terms of time and money given you may not be earning any income during this period. For this reason, it is recommended that a gap year is undertaken away when you have minimal financial commitments and responsibilities.
"This time is normally after leaving school, but before entering full time employment or further education. Hence 'gap years' have become synonymous with 18-year-olds heading off to travel before going to university. But really this need not be the case."
Are there any disadvantages to taking a gap year?
“I don’t think there is ever any disadvantage to travel and broadening one’s own life experiences, as long as it is worthwhile and meaningful.”
How do you address parents' worries over safety and other issues?
“What we offer at Camps International is to provide a more structured programme of cultural immersion and sustainable project work within rural, marginalised communities. We have built and maintained a number of camps within these communities, staffed by local community members, where volunteers stay, using it as a base to then conduct project work from.
"In effect, they are living amongst the community, and as part of their daily routine they interact with the locals and start to gain an understanding, and often a love for, the village and its people. The way we operate is particularly suitable to young school leavers who perhaps have not travelled before.”
Four important things to consider when planning a gap year
- “Examine what you want to get out of your experience,whether it is a year, a month, or pre-university. What are your aims and interests? Give your time away a focus. Look for opportunities to help broaden your experience in the fields in which you are considering future employment.”
- “If you are unsure about what you want to do career-wise, use this experience to challenge yourself in new areas. Throw yourself in at the deep end and do something which you have never done before, something that has focus and meaning, but completely new to you and your background. By doing this you develop new skills and talents you never knew you had.”
- "A gap year is not about doing tokenistic work which lacks meaning or sustainability just to feel good. Commit wholeheartedly to a cause or a role with meaning, which will be hard work, challenging and often very difficult, but makes you gain so much more out of the experience."
- "Make sure you do your homework before you travel, especially on the organisation providing the placement. Find out if what they are doing is meaningful, sustainable and for the right reasons. Find out how it is funded, where your money goes, and what are the longer-term outcomes and aims of the project. Dig a bit deeper, and look beyond the fancy pictures of elephants, pandas and scruffy-looking kids.”